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Joe Manchin says he will oppose a $3.5 trillion budget bill

The West Virginia Democrat is calling for a "pause" on one of Biden's top legislative priorities.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin came out against a $3.5 trillion budget bill on Thursday, throwing cold water on one of President Joe Biden's top legislative ambitions.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal opinion section, the West Virginia Democrat called on his party to hit "a strategic pause" on the legislation, rejecting the idea of "artificial political deadlines" to advance it.

"I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs," Manchin wrote.

Manchin's piece is a warning to Democrats, who have no path to passing a multitrillion-dollar budget bill without his vote in a Senate that is split 50-50. While the centrist Democrat didn't rule out voting for a bill, his opposition to the $3.5 trillion price tag may force Biden and the party to scale back its ambitions to ink the largest expansion of the U.S. safety net in generations.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., pauses for reporters after working behind closed doors with other Democrats in a basement room at the Capitol on June 16, 2021.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has also said she opposes the $3.5 trillion spending level.

Republicans are unified in opposition to it — the budget resolution to begin writing the bill required the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to move forward last month.

The emerging bill is a centerpiece of Biden's agenda, with Democrats aiming to include major investments in Medicare expansion, clean energy funding, child care and paid leave, while raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to pay for it.

Manchin's opinion piece mentions "debt" six times and "inflation" five times, indicating that proponents of the bill have work to do to allay his fears.

Many other Democrats, including House Budget Chair John Yarmuth of Kentucky have argued that the U.S. has the capacity to spend lots more money on domestic priorities. At a recent committee hearing, he said the federal government has "the fiscal space to do what we need to do."

"The federal government is not a family. And it's not a small business. And it's not a local government. And it's not a state government," Yarmuth said. "We can spend whatever we need to spend in the interest of serving the American people."

Yarmuth also addressed inflation fears, calling the dynamic "most likely transitory" and citing pandemic price spikes and drops for used cars and lumber.

Democrats are hoping to move the budget bill quickly. The House set a Sept. 27 deadline to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, but progressive lawmakers say they will only support it if it moves side-by-side with the reconciliation package.

One of them is Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., who responded to Manchin on Twitter:

In his opinion piece, Manchin indicated that he believes the larger budget bill can wait.

"A pause is warranted because it will provide more clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic, and it will allow us to determine whether inflation is transitory or not," he wrote.

Julie Tsirkin and Frank Thorp V contributed.