Key Democrats Warn Against Final $3.5 Trillion Budget Price Tag

Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona voted to advance a budget blueprint through the legislative process but have signaled they want to see total cost drop.,

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Key Democrats say the price tag on the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint is too high.

Storm clouds appeared over the Capitol on Tuesday as the Senate set the stage for a vote on a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint.
Storm clouds appeared over the Capitol on Tuesday as the Senate set the stage for a vote on a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint.Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times
  • Aug. 11, 2021Updated 10:24 a.m. ET

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democrat moderate, announced on Wednesday that he was unlikely to support a $3.5 trillion economic package, just hours after he helped advance a budget blueprint that would allow his party to craft legislation with that price tag.

Mr. Manchin provided a key vote over unanimous Republican opposition to approve the blueprint, which allows Senate Democrats to create an expansive package that they hope will fund climate change, health care and education measures while increasing taxes on wealthy people and corporations.

The Senate adopted the measure 50 to 49, with one lawmaker, Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, absent for the vote just before 4 a.m. But less than four hours later, Mr. Manchin issued a statement declaring “serious concerns about the grave consequences facing West Virginians and every American family if Congress decides to spend another $3.5 trillion.”

“I firmly believe that continuing to spend at irresponsible levels puts at risk our nation’s ability to respond to the unforeseen crises our country could face,” Mr. Manchin said. “I urge my colleagues to seriously consider this reality as this budget process unfolds in the coming weeks and months.”

Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another key Democrat, had previously said she would not support a final $3.5 trillion package. Like Mr. Manchin, she framed her vote in support of the budget blueprint as a way to begin the process, as opposed to embracing the intended outcome.

The statement underscores the difficult path ahead for the blueprint, which could set in motion the largest expansion of the federal safety net in nearly six decades. As Democrats seek to flesh it out and turn it into law, it will require their progressive and moderate wings to hold together with virtually no votes to spare.

The blueprint vote came a day after the bipartisan approval of a $1 trillion infrastructure package. Its passage came after a marathon session of rapid-fire votes in which Republicans, powerless to stop the measure in a Senate that Democrats control by Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote, instead pelted Democrats with politically freighted amendments. The votes dragged deep into the night for more than 14 hours.

The blueprint allows Senate Democrats to create an expansive package that will carry the remainder of President Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda.

“This legislation will not only provide enormous support to the kids of this country, to the parents of this country, to the elderly people of this country,” said Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the independent in charge of the Budget Committee. “But it will also, I hope, restore the belief that in America we can have a government that works for all, not just the few.”

Republicans denounced the measure for launching an unprecedented wave of spending that could ruin the country’s finances and its economy.

“People want to pretend this is just business as usual — just liberals doing liberal things using Senate procedure,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “Make no mistake. This reckless taxing and spending spree is like nothing we’ve seen.”

The blueprint now heads to the House, where lawmakers will return early from a scheduled summer recess the week of Aug. 23 to take it up. But moderate Democrats in that chamber are also agitating for a stand-alone vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package, which could complicate efforts to swiftly pass the measure. Progressives have said they will not vote on the infrastructure bill until the House approves the budget package.

“Democrats have labored for months to reach this point, and there are many labors to come,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. “But I can say with absolute certainty that it will be worth doing.”

The budget resolution will ultimately allow Democrats — if they remain unified — to use the fast-track budget reconciliation process to shield the legislation from a Republican filibuster. It would pave the way to expand Medicare to include dental, health and vision benefits; fund a host of climate change programs; provide free prekindergarten and community college; and levy higher taxes on wealthy businesses and corporations.

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