Progressives stressed that the hard work of passing an ambitious coronavirus relief package is still ahead after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin—the most conservative Democrat in the Senate—announced Tuesday that he will vote to move forward with an aid bill through the expedited budget reconciliation process, likely giving Democrats enough support to proceed with initial work on the desperately needed measure.
“We must address the urgency of the Covid-19 crisis,” Manchin said in a statement on the reconciliation process, which requires a mere simple-majority vote.
“The budget resolution that the Senate will be debating this week will enable us to fast track President Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency Covid relief through reconciliation with 51 votes. The American people want us to act boldly and they want us to act now.”
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
Manchin went on to express hope for eventually achieving “bipartisan support” for the coronavirus relief bill despite the GOP’s open hostility toward President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal, which Republicans have countered with a plan that is more than three times smaller and devoid of key elements, from housing assistance to state and local aid.
A potentially decisive swing vote given Democrats’ narrow control of the Senate, Manchin did not make any concrete commitments as to what he would be willing to endorse in an eventual aid package.
The senator did, however, vaguely warn that he “will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic”—suggesting that he might oppose some progressive priorities as extraneous to the task of fighting the coronavirus emergency and economic crisis.
“Pressure works. And he’s going to need a lot more of it,” tweeted Shannon Stagman, co-lead organizer of Empire State Indivisible, in response to Manchin’s statement.
Shortly after announcing his support for the procedural motion that will jumpstart the budget reconciliation process, Manchin said he opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $15—a key priority of incoming Budget Committee chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and a proposal that Biden endorsed in his opening coronavirus relief offer.
“No, I’m not,” Manchin told reporters when asked if he is in favor of a $15 federal minimum wage. “I’m supporting basically having something that’s responsible and reasonable. In my state that would be $11.”
“Here we go again,” responded Faiz Shakir, who managed Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. “Remember when Manchin initially declared he was against direct payments for people in his state, too? He moved his position on that, and he will need to do so on this one as well.”
Less than an hour after Manchin’s comments on the minimum wage, Biden tweeted:
It’s long past time we raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The American Rescue Plan will get it done.
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 2, 2021
The Senate is expected to narrowly pass the reconciliation motion Tuesday afternoon, a step that will start the clock on 50 hours of debate. That debate, as Roll Call reported, will be “followed by the infamous ‘vote-a-rama’ process that can include dozens of amendments, late into the evening.”
In a statement (pdf) ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Sanders said that “in this moment of unprecedented crises, the Senate must respond through unprecedented action.”
“The budget resolution that the Senate will be debating this week will enable us to fast track President Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency Covid relief through reconciliation with 51 votes,” said the Vermont senator. “The American people want us to act boldly and they want us to act now.”
“Instead of listening to wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders continued, “it is time for the Senate to listen to the needs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and the poor. And that is exactly what this budget resolution will accomplish.”