The centrist-leftist divide over the price tag and content of Democrats’ sweeping social spending bill intensified in the Senate on Wednesday as socialist independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin sparred over what the West Virginian called “entitlement society.”
Manchin for months said he believes $3.5 trillion is too high for the budget bill going through a special reconciliation process, which avoids the need for getting any Republican votes but still needs support from all 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats. Last week, it was revealed Manchin had given the White House an alternative top line of $1.5 trillion.
Manchin, who says he is not a liberal, reiterated his preference for the $1.5 trillion figure on Tuesday.
“I don't believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society. I think we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society,” he said.
That is significantly lower than the initial $3.5 trillion plan for the “Build Back Better Act” put forth by Democrats. If accepted, it would require either eliminating some of the sweeping social programs they had planned to fund from the bill, such as the new child tax credit, or only partially fund the programs.
Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and an architect of the initial $3.5 trillion proposal, was clearly not pleased with Manchin’s assessment that the plan would create an “entitlement society.”
“Sen. Manchin talked today about not wanting to see our country become an entitlement society. I’m not exactly sure what he means by that,” Sanders said in a press conference on Wednesday. “Is protecting working families and cutting childhood poverty an entitlement? Does Sen. Manchin think we should once again have one of the highest levels of child poverty of any country on earth?”
The majority of the Vermont senator’s press conference consisted of asking whether Manchin believes families are entitled to affordable housing, whether young people are entitled to get two free years of community college, and whether the nation's children and grandchildren are entitled to live in an inhabitable world that is not destroyed from climate change.
Sanders insisted, though: “I'm not here to disparage Sen. Manchin. I respect him."
Manchin on Wednesday said he wants "to make sure that we're committed to children" and "also our seniors at the end of life." He also wants to increase taxes on the very wealthy who got a tax cut under President Donald Trump in 2017.
But after being the target of attacks from Sanders, he was not afraid to name the Vermont senator by name in response.
“Respectfully, Senator Sanders and I share very different policy and political beliefs,” Manchin responded in a statement. “As he and I have discussed, Senator Sanders believes America should be moving towards an entitlement society while I believe we should have a compassionate and rewarding society."
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Original Author: Emily Brooks