Manchin demands progressives pick only 1 of 3 family policy priorities

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is telling colleagues that progressives need to pick just one of President Biden’s three signature policies for helping working families and discard the other two, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: By forcing progressives to choose among an expanded child tax credit, paid family medical leave or subsidies for child care, Manchin is complicating any potential deal— but also signaling his willingness to negotiate.

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  • He's also aligning himself with Democratic centrists in the House, who want to trim the number of programs in any final package but fund them for longer.

  • Progressives are hopeful they can retain all of their cherished programs in a final bill by funding many of them for shorter durations and therefore lower the bill's ultimate price tag.

  • Manchin’s office declined to comment to Axios.

The big picture: While President Biden has scaled back his top-line number from $3.5 trillion to $2.2 trillion, Manchin stressed on Wednesday that his price cap remains at $1.5 trillion, a position aggravating Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

  • Sanders, a leading progressive, separately told reporters there are “48 senators who support $3.5 trillion; we have two people who don't,” referring to Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

  • "It is wrong, it is really not playing fair,” Sanders said. "Two people do not have a right to sabotage what 48 want."

  • "The time is long overdue for him to tell us with specificity — not generalities, we're beyond generalities — with specificity, what he wants and what he does not want, and to explain that to the people of West Virginia and America,” Sanders said.

  • Manchin's private demand for progressive prioritization tracks with his public concern that simply trimming a program's duration doesn’t accurately capture its true overall cost.

By the numbers: The president has proposed extending the expanded, $3,600-per- child tax credit, which he funded for one year in the American Rescue Plan, for another four years. That would cost some $450 billion.

  • The costs for providing paid family medical leave vary wildly. The White House proposed $225 billion over 10 years in April, yet the House Ways and Means Committee priced it last month at $500 billion.

  • For Biden’s child and infant care proposals, which include subsidies for poor and middle-class families for day care and two years of universal preschool, the House wants to spend $450 billion.

Between the lines: Manchin is actually comfortable with federal funding for universal preschool, which is already available in his home state, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

  • He views the child and infant care proposals as a separate program.

Go deeper: While concerns about inflation, and Manchin's fear of seeding an "entitlement society," are driving his opposition to spending more than $1.5 trillion, he’s open to higher taxes on corporations and individuals to pay for that spending.

  • On Wednesday, he repeated his support to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug rates directly with pharmaceutical companies, which has long been a goal of progressives like Sanders.

  • “It makes no sense at all that we don’t go out and negotiate. The VA does a tremendous job," Manchin told reporters.

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