Democrats are tired of waiting for Joe Manchin.
After following the West Virginia Democrat’s every utterance on President Joe Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending plan, some Senate Democrats say their party should put the bill on the floor as soon as possible, regardless of whether Manchin gives a public commitment to support it beforehand. That could risk sinking the bill on the floor.
Already some Democrats are worried they will blow another deadline and kick their haggling into January. Many in the party argue they won’t gain anything by waiting any longer, especially after so much internal debate and Biden’s erosion in the polls during the legislative bargaining.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said she’d like to “put it to a vote and let people know where people stand.” And Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) also said it’s time to move forward, noting that all along Manchin’s “been negotiating.” Several Democrats noted that Manchin has already had substantial influence over the social spending bill’s total cost, as well as its policies.
“My experience in this business is you have to bring it to a vote to finally see where you are. All this speculation notwithstanding, people have to face the reality of yes or no,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Manchin’s had “more than enough time … there comes a point where the American people expect a result.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reiterated his intentions on Monday to put the $1.7 trillion child care, climate, education and health care bill on the floor and pass it before Christmas. It’s an aggressive timeline given critical outstanding work on raising the debt ceiling and passing a defense bill, not to mention incomplete work on Biden’s social spending bill.
Manchin said in an interview on Monday that it’s up to party leaders when the vote occurs. Schumer doesn’t have a history of putting legislation on the floor without full support of his caucus. And Manchin said he’s heard threats of impending deadlines before.
"We heard that it had to pass as soon as we came back from the August break and then we had to do it before the president went over[seas],” Manchin said. “I’ve heard all these time tables.”
The upcoming few days amounts to a critical choice for Schumer and his party. Schumer has hoped to use the approaching holiday season as impetus to stay in the Capitol and finish its work on the stalled agenda, which Democrats say would help improve Biden’s moribund polls.
It will be a tight squeeze. Parliamentary work may not finish until next week, leaving just a few days before Christmas to pass the bill.
Senate Democrats are fairly confident that they have support from the other 49 members of the caucus, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who has privately reassured Democrats she’s on board with the plan even as she’s declined to make a public commitment.
However, rolling the dice absent a firm commitment from Manchin could be too risky for some Democrats. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said: “I’d like to have a commitment amongst all 50 of us that we’re all going to stick together.”
“What happens if it goes down? We can walk around and say we tried? That doesn’t really sell,” added Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “There have to be conversations with Joe to make sure you’re not moving into a failure situation.”
Already several Democrats say privately that meeting Schumer’s Christmas mark is unlikely, with one putting the odds at zero. Some Democrats are already steeling themselves for another delay.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), meanwhile, said that while he still expects Democrats to pass the legislation by the end of the year, they don’t necessarily need to.
“There’s nothing magic about it,” Kaine said, adding that he wants to pass the legislation “sufficiently in advance of Jan. 15” to ensure individuals don’t see a pause in the child tax credit benefit, which technically expires at the end of the year.
The House is currently scheduled to come back from holiday break on Jan. 10 next year and will have to take another vote on the social spending bill if the Senate changes it. Democratic senators are currently planning to cut down tax reforms that benefit the wealthy and the Senate parliamentarian may ax the House’s immigration language, meaning Senate approval would not be the final stop before Biden’s desk. Manchin also opposes the four weeks of paid leave in the House version of the bill.
And a sense of deja vu has crept in among Democrats. Manchin was cagey ahead of the Senate’s consideration of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in March, declining to say he would kick off debate on the bill. And when that debate finally began, he helped shave down some unemployment benefits during a nearly 12-hour delay for consideration of the bill.
Still, Manchin was more committed to that proposal than he is to the social spending legislation and there was little question of whether he would ultimately support it. He said this time around that if Democrats “think you’re there, then you ought to go ahead and put it up and let’s vote.”
So would Democrats take a chance if Manchin didn’t give them a green light?
“We have not made that decision yet,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the No. 4 Democrat. But she reiterated most Democrats’ bottom line: “There’s a very, very strong push to [vote] before Christmas.”