Basement talk, virtual handshake led to Manchin-Schumer deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Y Democratic Senator Joe Manchin they hid in a basement room of the Capitol.

The two men had been fighting for more than a year in long and unsuccessful rounds of negotiations from start to finish over President Joe Biden’s grand US reconstruction package. But the talks had stalled, again. With the midterm elections near, control of Congress at stake, the president and his party were at the back of the line.

Just four days earlier, Manchin had issued his latest ultimatum: Or the ambitious proposal is reduced removing climate change provisions that were so important to Biden and his party, or waiting until September to try to pass any bills, giving the economy’s staggering 9.1% inflation a chance to cool down.

With all avenues with his colleague exhausted, Schumer told Biden that they had to do everything possible before the lawmakers left town for the summer break. From the White House, Biden had announced that it was time to make a deal.

And Manchin faced his own political pressures. Outraged colleagues openly criticized his tactics as insincere, even whispering that the West Virginia senator should have the gavel removed as committee chairman. The state’s conservator of coal was being publicly singled out, even embarrassed, as the only figure holding back aid for a planet in peril.

Before the basement meeting, Manchin put a new offer on the table.

Details were scant that Monday afternoon 10 days ago, but the size and scope surprised Schumer’s team and, most importantly, included a commitment to vote before the August recess. This account is from several people familiar with the private conversations and granted anonymity to discuss them.

The two men shook hands and agreed to start talking, again.

“What a beautiful office,” Schumer wondered aloud in the basement room of the Capitol. “It’s mine?”

It was.

What happened next was a week-long negotiation, much of it out of sight, to produce the $739 billion surprise package now headed for snap votes in Congress.

Biden praised the deal on Thursday. as a “gift from heaven” to American families.

“This bill is far from perfect,” Biden said from the White House. “It’s a compromise. But that is often how progress is made.”

He thanked Schumer and Manchin for the “extraordinary effort it took to reach this result.”

The 725 page “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” limit out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for seniors to $2,000 a year, and help about 13 million families with subsidies to buy their own health insurance policies. Invests $369 billion over the decade in tax incentives to fight climate changeincluding $4,000 for used electric vehicles and $7,500 for new vehicles.

The package is paid for in large part by imposing a minimum 15% tax on corporations making more than $1 billion a year and by allowing the federal government to negotiate directly with drug companies for lower costs. The leftover savings, about $300 billion, will go to pay the deficits.

With Republicans staunchly opposed, Democrats will need all senators in their 50-50 majority to secure passage, which is what gives Manchin, and indeed all other senators, such a strong hand in negotiations. .

Manchin in a conference call Thursday with reporters called the final product a “win-win.”

It almost didn’t happen.

Biden and Manchin had barely spoken since negotiations abruptly collapsed At the end of last year, the brutal end of the president’s “Build Back Better” project, once expansive, a proposal for more than $4 trillion of investments in infrastructure and family support.

The two had engaged in candid, personal conversations, including once at the president’s family home in Delaware when Biden achieved a breakthrough on par with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, while Manchin always remained cool in the face of such a broad effort. and powerful.

Despite months of talks, Manchin called off the whole thing shortly before Christmas, angering his colleagues and the White House, which publicly berated the senator for collapsing Biden’s trademark national proposal. Relations between the president and the senator were more than tense.

Instead, Schumer took over working with Manchin in the new year, as the White House outsourced negotiations to Capitol Hill. The New York Democratic leader had to slow down, constantly trying to rebuild talks around a smaller but still substantial package that Manchin would support.

All along, Manchin has insisted that he never walked away from any conversation. He was still in touch with the White House, even speaking with Biden on occasion, and simply didn’t want his Democratic Party to overreach while he tried to rein in the president’s ambitious initiatives and keep spending.

“My main concern was inflation,” Manchin said, citing high food and gasoline prices. “I hear about it every day.”

Manchin also maintained close relations with Republicans, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has publicly and privately encouraged Manchin to stay away from the Democrats’ agenda. The Republican leader has openly pondered the possibility of welcoming the conservative senator into the ranks of the Republican Party.

Just as negotiations appeared to be gaining ground ahead of the summer break, Manchin paused again on July 14, as inflation fears spiked again.

“I just couldn’t do it,” Manchin told Schumer.

It got “hot and heated,” Manchin acknowledged.

Colleagues were furious, and even Manchin complained about their reaction.

“That’s when they let the dogs out, that night, saying I’m against all of this,” he said.

Silently, senator after senator approached Manchin, trying to bring him back to the table.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a Biden ally, visited Manchin’s office, as did others, according to an aide familiar with the private conversations. Lawrence Summers, a former economic adviser to the Clinton administration, called Manchin to discuss the senator’s inflation concerns.

Coons listened, listening to the senator as Manchin insisted that he never left the table, despite the way he presented himself.

The best way to show naysayers that he still wanted a deal, Coons advised, was for Manchin to come up with the biggest package he could possibly support.

As Manchin and Schumer walked through the halls on Capitol Hill that Monday, they recognized that “sometimes our tempers get a little ahead of us,” Manchin said.

“Let’s recalibrate,” Manchin suggested.

The two met that Monday afternoon in the basement conference room, which was windowless but featured a mural of the Capitol building, one of the people familiar with the conversations said.

After they emerged with the handshake deal, they spent the next week and a half working on the package, even as Manchin had to stay in West Virginia afterward. testing positive for covid.

Reaching the final agreement on Wednesday afternoon, Schumer and Manchin shook hands again, a “virtual handshake,” as they called it, across miles on a video call.

Senators reported to the White House: Biden and Manchin spoke again.

The president and the senator, both isolate yourself from covidsymptoms were compared.

Schumer met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in person at her office and then briefed his fellow senators.

“It’s been a momentous 24 hours,” Schumer said as he closed the Senate Thursday night looking ahead to next week’s vote.

“If you are doing the right thing and you persist, you will succeed,” Schumer said in brief remarks at his office. “We persist. Hopefully we can make it.”

___ Associated Press reporter Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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