Manchin’s pitch to Democrats: Take a health care deal or try again later

“If you have a political deadline and it has to be done in July, the only thing you know you can do is basically … lower drug prices, let Medicare negotiate, which saves about $280 billion. over 10 years. Take 40 billion of that and expand the Affordable Care Act, the rebates that people were getting,” Manchin said.

Democrats were alarmed after Manchin’s message to Schumer indicated that climate change and tax provisions were inapplicable to any party bill being considered this summer. Fury is building in the party, with Sen. Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) questioning whether Manchin should continue to chair the Senate Energy Committee.

And since Manchin has not agreed to vote on anything bigger in September pending inflation data next month, Democrats will be plunged into uncertainty if they don’t get the smaller deal on the table.

Asked about Schumer’s response when he expressed his opinion on Thursday, Manchin said, “He’s saying, ‘Are you telling me you’re not going to do the other one right now?'” I said, Chuck, that’s wrong. It is not wise to do otherwise right now.”

Thursday night’s meeting between Schumer and Manchin blew up weeks of discussions on a larger deficit-reduction package and potentially leaves only a slim bill focused on health care as an option for Democrats hoping to send much broader legislation to the president’s desk Joe Biden. Health care premiums are usually set in the summer, so if Democrats wait until September, they risk angering voters before the midterm elections — without ironclad assurances from Manchin that he will agree to a bigger proposal.

The health care deal proposed by Manchin would lower premiums for two years; Democrats sought a permanent solution because of Manchin’s own past insistence that the new programs not be temporary and all paid for.

Manchin himself first proposed this year to keep a so-called reconciliation bill that could avoid a GOP retaliatory focus on deficit reduction, climate spending, tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, and reform of prescription drugs.

But the influential centrist soured sharply this week on the contours of that package as inflation continues to plague the economy, telling reporters on Wednesday that it was unclear what Democrats could accomplish beyond prescription drugs.

“All of our efforts should be: How do we reduce gas prices, high energy prices, high food prices, all of these things: that’s the day-to-day. And everybody’s talking about anything but stuff,” Manchin said in an interview earlier this week. “Unless you can get your financial house in order, you won’t get inflation under control.”

Manchin’s rejection of Schumer’s proposals for broader legislation has drawn deep frustration from progressives, particularly those who see Democratic control of Congress and the White House as a long-sought opportunity to curb carbon emissions. It could be several years before Democrats find themselves in control of both houses of Congress and the White House and the ability to unilaterally enact parts of their long-term agenda.

In a rare statement criticizing a colleague, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) called Manchin’s stance “infuriating” and said “the world is literally on fire as he joins every single Republican to stop decisive action” on climate change.

“It’s important that every young person, every activist, the majority of people in this country who are pushing for climate action understand very clearly that these are not the Democrats,” the representative said. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) in an interview. “This is a guy named Joe Manchin. When it comes to the most important existential question of our time, this guy is a wrecking ball.”

Democrats were willing to make major concessions for Manchin to try to do something bigger this summer. Schumer has proposed directing half of the bill’s new tax revenue toward deficit reduction, cutting subsidies for electric vehicles, eliminating direct payments to companies that produce clean energy for consumers and even supporting allowing reform for more drilling, according to the Democrat briefed on the talks.

Manchin tried to cut an energy package originally set at more than $500 billion to $300 billion or less. He opposed privately sending money to the EV industry and the direct payment program.

Despite his general support for raising corporate taxes, Manchin said on Kercheval’s show that he was unwilling to enact a 15 percent top corporate tax rate right now because of concerns that “other countries aren’t following suit … we’ve taken that off the table.” ” He said Friday that the energy policy talks with Schumer had been “positive.”

Schumer also offered an energy deal to Manchin that did not include tax increases the centrist worries about, such as corporate taxes, the Democrat said briefly of the talks on Friday. Manchin rejected that, too.

Democrats seek to raise taxes on very high earners, force some owners of so-called “pass-through” companies to pay more in Medicare taxes, and crack down on low-tax corporations.

This February, Manchin laid out what he might support: energy investments, lower prescription drug costs, deficit reduction and tax reform. He has consistently said he supports repealing the 2017 GOP tax cuts.

Democrats may decide to accept Manchin’s small proposal, given the insurance premium hikes that will happen this fall without action on health care and the party’s long-sought goal of lowering drug prices. Moreover, it would prevent a political disaster for the party trying to maintain its tenuous hold on the evenly divided Senate.

But that would be only a fraction of what the Democrats ever set out to do.

Last year, they unveiled a package costing trillions of dollars and reshaping the country’s education, tax, climate and housing policies. And just a year ago, Manchin signed a document with Schumer indicating potential support for a $1.5 trillion bill.

The House eventually passed the smaller Build Back Back Better bill. But Manchin rejected it in December. In March, he laid out a plan for a potential deal: “The production of revenue [measures] will be taxes and medicine. The costs will be climatic.”

As he wrapped up his interview with Kercheval, Manchin insisted he was not backing out of talks with Schumer. In vintage Manchin style, he said that “I’m not going to stop … I’m right where I was.”

Josh Siegel contributed to this report.

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