Progressive Democrats have said they will fight the infrastructure package unless they see movement on a separate, sweeping $3.5 trillion social safety net expansion that’s also part of Biden’s agenda.
But Manchin laughed when reporters asked if that would be possible ahead of a scheduled House vote on Thursday on the infrastructure bill he has championed.
“No! It’s not possible,” Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, told reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. “What’s possible is, you sit down, have good-faith negotiations [on the other bill] while you pass infrastructure.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after multiple delays, set a vote for Thursday on infrastructure, arguing that the Senate should be able to provide more details on the other government welfare bill by then, if not a final proposal.
When reporters at the Capitol asked Wednesday, Pelosi didn’t deny that she could ultimately delay the Thursday vote.
“We take it one step at a time,” Pelosi said.
Manchin, arguably the most conservative Democratic senator, has held meetings at the White House this week to try to hash out an agreement on the larger proposal, but no deal has been reached that would satisfy the demands that progressives have laid out and repeated many times this week.
Officials haven’t even disclosed a dollar figure that they are working toward, as Manchin and U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, have said they won’t go for the hefty $3.5 trillion price tag and oppose some proposals in the bill.
“I’m always willing to deal in good faith,” Manchin said Wednesday. “The bottom line is, I’ve been very, very straightforward and open, they know exactly where I am.”
Manchin said he wasn’t aware that the two bills were intertwined because he had worked to separate them.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki downplayed the standoff and what it means for Biden’s agenda during Wednesday’s press briefing.
“We’re not done with this—the president has been clear about his commitment to getting both pieces through,” she told reporters. “What his focus is on now is how we can move both of these pieces of legislation forward and make sure that both of them are done to move his agenda forward.”
Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also stressed the timeline isn’t set.
“What in fact needs to happen is that the Senate needs to pass a strong reconciliation bill, and then the House can pass the infrastructure bill,” he told reporters Wednesday. “I was never a great fan of picking a particular date in the House. If it is pushed back I think that’s fine.”
The infrastructure bill passed the U.S. Senate last month with broad bipartisan support, including from U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But House Republicans have been discouraging members from supporting the bill, leaving Democrats with little opportunity for defectors.
Democrats hold 220 House seats to Republicans‘ 212.