Underscoring the yawning chasm between progressives' demands for a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package and right-wing Democrats' refusal to accept such spending, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Bernie Sanders wrangled over the bill's price tag behind closed Senate doors Wednesday, according to colleagues present during the fracas.
According to Axios, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who witnessed the exchange, recounted that "Joe said, 'I'm comfortable with nothing,'" while "Bernie said, 'We need to do three-and-a-half [trillion dollars].'"
"The truth is both of them are in different spots," said Tester.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who was also in the room, said Manchin argued, "We shouldn't do it at all," and that the $3.5 trillion proposal "will contribute to inflation."
"We've already passed the American Rescue Plan. We should just pass the infrastructure bill and, you know, pause for six months," Manchin reportedly argued, referring to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate in August before being indefinitely delayed by House progressives who insist upon first passing the reconciliation package.
Last month, Manchin admitted that it had been his plan all along to secure passage of the corporate-backed bipartisan infrastructure bill and then scupper the more ambitious $3.5 trillion package.
Coons claimed that "significant progress" was made in the meeting, despite the tension between Manchin and Sanders. The two senators have tussled in recent weeks, with Sanders calling Manchin's obstruction "absolutely not acceptable" and the West Virginian lashing out after the democratic socialist published an op-ed in a Charleston paper criticizing his intransigence.
While Coons and Tester both said they remain hopeful that Democrats will agree upon a top-line figure for the reconciliation package by the end of Thursday, Manchin threw cold water on the notion, warning that "this is not gonna happen any time soon."
On Thursday, West Virginia activists traveled to Manchin's houseboat in Washington, D.C., where they urged him not to sink his party's agenda while asking, "Who will you throw overboard?"