Correction: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is pressing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and other Senate Democrats to pass what he called a “real budget” proposal this year, something that would require tough votes on the Senate floor.
Senate leaders have avoided voting on budget plans in recent years to protect vulnerable incumbents from taking politically dangerous votes on spending cuts, tax hikes or other controversial proposals.
Schumer declined to commit to passing a Senate Democratic budget resolution when asked about it on Wednesday.
Democrats passed bare-bones budget resolutions during President Biden’s first two years in office to set the stage for passing partisan reconciliation packages with simple majority votes, which they used to enact the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022.
Schumer has said repeatedly that the ball is in Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) court to propose any deficit reduction plan connected to debt limit legislation.
The Democratic leader argued on Wednesday that Senate Democrats cut the deficit by an estimated $300 billion by passing the Inflation Reduction Act last year. The law also provided $45 billion to the IRS for tax enforcement activities.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, however, Manchin pointed out that annual federal spending has grown from $3.5 trillion to $6.2 trillion over the past decade — an 80 percent increase — and the federal government will spend more than $600 billion this year servicing the national debt.
He criticized Democrats for not wanting to discuss what he called “out-of-control spending” and also dinged Republicans for refusing “to offer any specifics” about how to cut the deficit and for holding the debt limit and a potential national default as a bargaining chip.
“We need to pass a budget on time,” he said, noting that Biden, who will send his budget proposal to Congress next week, is already a month behind schedule.
Manchin reminded colleagues that the Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Sen. Sheldon WhiteHouse (D-R.I), is supposed to report its budget resolution by April 1, a deadline the committee routinely misses.
And the West Virginia senator pointed out that the Senate and House are supposed to reconcile their budget proposals by April 15, another requirement that lawmakers have ignored in recent years.
“It’s been 20 years since we passed a budget on time. We haven’t had a real budget at all, even a late one, since 2016,” Manchin complained. “Last year neither the House nor the Senate Budget Committee even bothered to pass a budget out of the committee. Even bothered to do one. It’s unbelievable.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chaired the Budget Committee in 2021 and 2022, pushed back against Manchin’s criticism, highlighting the work he did to pave the wave for the American Rescue Plan, which included a one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit.
“The Budget Committee worked tirelessly especially during the midst of the COVID crisis, developed the most consequential piece of legislation in [recent] history, which helped us deal with COVID and the pandemic as well as the economic collapse of our economy saw as a result of that,” he said. “I am very proud of the work that we did, and even Mr. Manchin voted for that historic piece of legislation.”
Manchin on Thursday blamed both parties for piling onto the debt, noting that Trump added an estimated $7.5 trillion to projected debt levels while Biden added more than $5 trillion.
He said Schumer, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) need to “propose a budget, allow for debate and discussion and put it up for a vote.”
“The debt ceiling clock is ticking, and we can’t afford to wait any longer,” he said.
Biden will submit his budget proposal to Congress next week and discussed it with Senate Democrats at a meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon.
The president told senators, “You’re going to see some interesting stuff on March 9,” according to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who attended the meeting.
“And he very much said that’s kind of like the starter’s gun in a race. He said ‘You guys will do what you’re going to do with my submission and the House will do what they’re going to do and then we’ll have to hash it out,’” Kaine said, summarizing Biden’s message.
Asked Wednesday whether Senate Democrats would pass their own budget proposal this year, Schumer said, “Well, look, you’re going to see President Biden’s budget on the ninth, and we’ll go from there.”