Manchin pushes back on billionaire tax as Democrats struggle to cut a deal on Biden agenda

On October 26 Senator Joe Manchin, seen here on October 6 in Washington, DC, resisted a last-ditch move by Democrats to impose a new tax on billionaires to help pay for President Joe Biden's sweeping social safety net plan.

By Clare Foran and Manu Raju, CNN

(CNN) -- Sen. Joe Manchin on Wednesday resisted a last-ditch move by Democrats to impose a new tax on billionaires to help pay for President Joe Biden's sweeping social safety net plan, the latest sign of the major headwinds facing the White House as it tries to lock down a deal to advance the ambitious agenda.

Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, also pushed back on a number of key social programs demanded by liberals, including paid family leave and Medicare expansion, underscoring how far Democrats are from finding a workable compromise even as leadership pushes for a framework agreement this week.

Asked by CNN if he supports a proposed billionaire tax, Manchin sounded skeptical. "I don't like it. I don't like the connotation that we're targeting different people. There's people that basically, that contribute to society, that create a lot of jobs, and invest a lot of money, and give a lot to philanthropic pursuits," he said

Democrats are facing significant issues over how to pay for the social safety net plan after another key moderate -- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona -- made clear she opposed raising the corporate tax rate and the top marginal rate on individuals, which Democrats had originally wanted to finance the plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on Wednesday outlined key unresolved issues to a deal as well as priorities that Democrats have coalesced behind.

In a letter to fellow Democrats, Pelosi said there is "broad agreement" for universal pre-K and child care, the child tax credit, home health care, workforce development and housing. She also said "great progress has been made" to address gaps in Medicaid coverage at the state level and "we are pleased with the robust climate package." But the speaker made clear what the sticking points are, saying that "we are still fighting for a paid family and medical leave provision."

Resistance to billionaire tax creates problem for Democrats

Amid resistance from Manchin and another Senate Democrat, Virginia's Mark Warner, over the billionaire tax, Democrats are once again scrambling to find a way to pay for the plan. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrats, said talks were "ongoing" with Manchin to ease his concerns.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats and serves as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told reporters Wednesday that given the massive impasse on revenue right now, he doesn't see a path to get a deal on a framework Wednesday or hold a vote on a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill this week.

"I don't think so," Sanders said. "I'm not quite clear In terms of the revenue package. Every sensible income option seems to be destroyed."

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, insisted the billionaire tax is not dead. "I have not heard any senator say that they don't believe in billionaires paying their fair share."

Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote in the Senate to pass the package, giving Manchin and Sinema outsized influence. The two moderates have taken a lead role in dictating the terms of the negotiations, a dynamic that has angered and frustrated progressives who have watched some of their key priorities scaled back or cut from the proposal entirely.

A meeting Tuesday night with Manchin at the White House yielded no significant breakthrough on Biden's economic package, leaving it unclear whether any deal can be reached imminently, two sources familiar with matter told CNN. White House officials are back on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in an effort to find a way forward.

Top Democrats push for a deal and vote on infrastructure bill

Democratic congressional leaders and the White House had hoped to secure a framework deal on the social safety net plan this week in order to clear the way for a House vote on the separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Progressives say they won't vote for the bipartisan bill unless the larger package moves in tandem.

Pelosi said on Wednesday that Democrats are "close to agreement" on the larger spending package and announced that a procedural step will take place on Thursday in a bid to show forward momentum.

"I have asked the Rules Committee to hold a hearing tomorrow, October 28, to advance this spectacular agenda," Pelosi wrote in her letter to Democrats.

That does not mean an agreement will be ready by the time the committee meets but it is a way to bring a deal to the floor quickly if one is reached.

On Wednesday, Manchin called for a vote on the infrastructure bill.

"We need to move forward, the President has made that very clear," he said. "He wants to move forward, and we owe it to the President to move forward. Take a vote on this, on the infrastructure bill."

The West Virginia Democrat also expressed optimism they can get an agreement on a framework, though he cautioned final action on legislation would take much longer on the larger bill.

"We're not doing everything today," Manchin said Wednesday. "The Senate's going to take time. We're basically trying to agree to a framework."

Manchin expresses concern over paid leave and Medicare expansion

He also raised concerns about insolvency and how to keep social programs funded when asked about expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing and new paid family leave policies, both of which are top priorities for progressives.

"I am truly absolutely concerned about the deficit of our country," Manchin said when asked about Medicare expansion, "I'm concerned about the insolvency of the trust funds. In good conscience I have a hard time increasing basically benefits which all of us can agree 'oh love to have, this love to have that when you can't even take care of what you have."

"I've been very clear -- to expand social programs when you have trust funds that aren't solvent or going insolvent, I can't explain that. It doesn't make sense to me. I want to work with everyone as long as we can start paying for things, that's all. I can't put this burden on my grandchildren," he said.

This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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