Joe Manchin says $1.5 trillion is his limit on Biden economic agenda amid battle with progressives

Manchin said he informed President Joe Biden that was his number, and Biden said he needed more than that.

“I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape or form,” Manchin said. “I’m willing to come from zero to 1.5 (trillion).”

The Democrats’ Build Back Better Act would expand the child tax credit and Medicare’s ability to cover vision, hearing and dental care, fund community college and universal pre-kindergarten initiatives, combat climate change, and fund elder care and paid leave programs. The $3.5 trillion bill would be paid for, at least in part, by tax increases primarily on corporations and the wealthy.

But Manchin has noted that Congress has spent $5.4 trillion since last March in response to the pandemic. In a statement Wednesday, Manchin asked, “At some point, all of us regardless of party must ask the simple question — how much is enough?”

For many progressives, $1.5 trillion will not be.

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“It’s pretty sad if you ask me,” said Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono of Manchin’s proposed price tag.

“I don’t think so,” said Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth when asked if that number was sufficient.

Manchin’s figure could further complicate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to vote Thursday on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, a top priority of Manchin and other moderates. That bill would spend hundreds of billions of dollars upgrading roads, bridges, transit, rail, broadband, airports, ports and waterways.

“We’re on a path to win the vote,” said Pelosi at a press conference. “I don’t want to even consider any options other than that.”

Manchin’s position of backing a $1.5 trillion top-line number should not come as a surprise to Democratic leaders. The topline figure is consistent with a document from this summer obtained by Politico that shows more detail about what Manchin may want from a social safety net bill. A Senate Democratic aide confirmed to CNN the authenticity of the document Thursday.

Manchin made comments that referenced a similar price tag range during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on September 12.

Joe Manchin has been remarkably consistent. Democrats just haven't been listening

“I have looked at numbers,” Manchin told Bash when she asked about the price tag he would support, adding later, “That’s in the $1 – $1.5 (trillion) range, OK? If that’s where it is, shouldn’t you be looking at, what does it take now to meet the urgent needs that we have that we haven’t already met?”

“It’s not going to be at $3.5 (trillion), I can assure you,” he added.

With a split Senate and a tenuous hold on the House, liberal Democrats are also leveraging their power to make sure their colleagues support their top priority — the Build Back Better Act.

Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal said that the majority of progressives will vote down the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the broader social safety net package is passed in both the House and the Senate.

“We are in the same place we’ve always been” Jayapal said. “We will not be able to vote for the infrastructure bill until the reconciliation bill has passed.”

Pelosi has kept the door open to delaying the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, as even Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, acknowledged it could fail if brought to the floor.

When asked if he was confident that the bill would pass Thursday, Hoyer told reporters, “nope.”

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Liberal Democrats have been particularly frustrated with Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who have pushed back on the massive top-line number and some of the proposed tax increases. Sinema spokesman John LaBombard said Thursday that she has said for months that she would not support a bill costing $3.5 trillion.

Before Manchin’s public comments Thursday, many Democrats seemed unaware of where Manchin stood on his topline figure.

“I want to know what Joe’s number is,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin on Thursday. “And I want to remind him that we have increases in taxes on the wealthiest people in America, and on corporations that are not paying their fair share now.”

“If you actually pay for what you’re doing, as we’re doing, it’s not inflationary, and I think he understands that,” Durbin added.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Thursday.

CNN’s Annie Grayer and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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