By Manu Raju and Clare Foran, CNN
Senate Democratic leaders are growing increasingly confident that they will lock down support for the crucial first step to advancing President Joe Biden’s multi-trillion dollar economic package after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin signaled on Thursday that he is in favor of pressing forward.
Manchin told CNN that he backs proceeding with the budget resolution, which both chambers of Congress must first adopt before drafting so-called reconciliation legislation — a process that would allow Democrats to pass critical Biden economic priorities on a straight party line vote in the 50-50 Senate, as opposed to most legislation which needs 60 votes to advance.
“We should move forward with the budget resolution because you’ve got to get on the bill to work on it,” Manchin said of the first step in the process.
Manchin, who has been sharply critical of Democrats’ climate change provisions in the budget plan, added he’s “keeping an open mind” on the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion price tag for their reconciliation bill.
The comments from Manchin come as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to pass both a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal and the budget resolution before the chamber leaves for the August recess.
If the non-binding budget resolution is approved by both chambers, then lawmakers and staff will spend the recess drafting the text of the binding reconciliation bill, which Congress will take up in the fall. A single Democratic defection in the Senate would derail the budget plan with Republicans furiously opposed to the price tag and the tax hikes on the wealthy and businesses to pay for it.
Indeed, all 50 Senate Democrats must fall in line and back passage of the budget resolution for it to be adopted — and with Manchin’s comments, it appears that outcome is now on track.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, another key moderate Democrat, signaled on Wednesday that she will also likely vote to move forward with the budget resolution — the beginning of the process — even though she indicated that she opposes a $3.5 trillion price tag of the ultimate reconciliation bill.
“I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion — and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona’s economy and help Arizona’s everyday families get ahead,” Sinema said in a statement.
Manchin, however, would not rule out that price tag.
“I think the fairest thing for all of us to do out of respect for all the people who have been working hard on the reconciliation bill is to look at the contents. I’m just getting all of the information now so I can evaluate it. I’m keeping an open mind, looking at everything. I’m not saying whether I can or I can’t. I’m looking at everything out of respect for my colleagues,” Manchin said.
Other moderate members also seem to be falling in line.
Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he’s “generally comfortable” with the Democrats’ plan to move Biden’s multi-trillion agenda along straight party lines.
“No. 1, you got to look at what’s in it,” King said. And secondly, how it’s paid for, but I’m generally comfortable. I’m not committed to everything — all the details — but that’s the process that we’ll be going through.”
King added that the top-line number of $3.5 trillion does not turn him off the way it does Sinema.
“No, no, no, no, I don’t — I would not make that statement,” King told CNN, referring to Sinema’s opposition over the price tag. “As I say, the important thing for me is what’s in it and how — is it paid for. So far, the content seems reasonable, and it is paid for and I think that’s, that’s the important part of the proposal.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said there is “substantial support within the Democratic Caucus” on moving ahead on the resolution.
Durbin said he spoke with Sinema “at length” over her position to “understand exactly where she is.”
“I certainly have a few more questions,” Durbin said.
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