Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sanders (I-Vt.) disputed behind closed doors Wednesday, with Manchin using a raised-fist goose egg to tell his colleague he can live without any of President Biden's social spending plan, Axios has learned.
The disagreement, recounted to Axios by two senators present in the room, underscores how far apart the two key members remain as the Democratic Party tries to meet its deadline for reaching an agreement on a budget reconciliation framework by Friday.
It also proves that despite the "kumbaya meeting" between Manchin and Sanders on Monday — after which they posed together for photos — the two remain sharply divided.
Manchin's comfort level with zero as a final number, and his willingness to threaten Sanders with it publicly at Wednesday's lunch for Senate committee chairs, reveals a stark reality for Democratic negotiators: Manchin can control the final dollar amount.
Spokespersons for both Manchin and Sanders turned down requests for comment.
Manchin, a West Virginia centrist, and Sanders, a socialist from Vermont, have taken pains in recent days to put on a show of unity following weeks of barbs, as congressional Democrats try tirelessly to come to an agreement on a framework for the bill by Friday, Axios reported .
“The truth is both of them are in different spots," Tester expressed.
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware described it as “a vigorous, 10-minute discussion.”
Coons and Tester both recalled Sanders pushing for a higher price tag on the legislation, proposing $3.5 trillion or as high as $6 trillion. Those are wish list numbers by far-left liberal lawmakers that Manchin has made clear he will not agree to, maintaining his maximum price tag is $1.5 trillion.
Manchin reportedly told colleagues, “We shouldn't do it at all,” arguing the massive spending plan would further fuel inflation. He argued they should pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill and “pause” the social spending bill.
Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are the targets of a pressure campaign from progressive Democrats to support the legislation. Despite the tension, Manchin this week denied a report he was eyeing an exit from the Democratic Party to become an independent.