Manchin balks at GOP's smaller infrastructure plan - and says he can back $4 trillion as long as it's paid for

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Joe Manchin
Sen. Joe Manchin. Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP, File

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is open to a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan. He just wants to see the bill covered.

That could be bad news for Republicans hoping he'll break with his party on the next massive plan from President Joe Biden's desk.

Manchin - a moderate Democrat with incredible influence over Senate Democrats' agenda - rebuked the GOP's infrastructure plan on Thursday. His comments could reverberate widely.

A group of Senate Republicans is preparing a plan that could range from $600 billion to $800 billion, drastically undercutting Biden's $2.3 trillion proposal. Separately, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is telling his caucus to praise Manchin in an effort to win his support, Politico reported.

Manchin's support is critical for Democrats to pass an infrastructure plan of their own. With Democrats holding only 50 seats in the Senate and relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie, any opposition from Manchin or other moderate Democrats dooms efforts to pass legislation by a simple majority under reconciliation.

The senator from West Virginia told reporters he still saw room for agreement between Democrats and Republicans but added that he was willing to go big if the situation warranted such spending.

"I don't think they're locked in on any number," Manchin said. "We're going to do whatever it takes. If it takes $4 trillion, I'd do $4 trillion, but we have to pay for it."

The $4 trillion sum evokes the sum Biden is looking to spend between two infrastructure proposals, according to Reuters. The $2.3 trillion plan unveiled in March focuses more on traditional infrastructure and renovations. A follow-up measure - known as the American Families Act - is expected to include funds for universal pre-K, childcare, and other social measures.

The infrastructure argument has split senators along partisan lines as Biden looks to pass legislation that rivals the New Deal. Democrats say that new benefits like free community college and childcare should join traditional infrastructure in a spending package. Republicans balk at this wider definition and are instead pushing for a slimmed-down measure that focuses on rebuilding roads and bridges. In fact, their plan could double the amount spent on this aspect of physical infrastructure.

The two parties need to come to an agreement on the very definition of "infrastructure," Manchin said. Identifying exactly what elements the bill should cover is paramount to passing legislation in a timely manner, he added.

The GOP's plan also differs from Biden's in that it lacks a corporate-tax hike. The president proposed lifting the corporate rate to 28% from 21%, along with other tax increases to pay for his infrastructure plan. The GOP instead wants to finance its plan with "user fees," such as taxes on vehicle mileage traveled or an increase to the gas tax.

GOP senators doubled down on their dismissal of a corporate-tax hike, calling such policy a "nonnegotiable red line" Thursday afternoon. Still, they appeared far from in agreement on the scope of an overall infrastructure package.

The GOP's stance mirrors that seen in February as both parties readied their respective stimulus packages. Republican senators pitched a $618 billion measure to the White House that slashed spending on tenets of Biden's own plan, including stimulus checks and unemployment insurance. Biden ended up approving a $1.9 trillion package that's since distributed billions of dollars to American households.

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