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Manchin and Sinema meet with Biden over reconciliation bill concerns

Moderate Democrats Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema held separate meetings with President Biden at the White House Tuesday, as the White House and most Democrats push an up-to $3.5 trillion bill to expand the social safety net. 

Mr. Biden's first-term domestic agenda is packed into the massive bill, which has no Republican support and will have to be passed by using a budgetary process called reconciliation. This will enable it to pass with 50 votes, rather than the 60 votes that are normally required to pass Senate measures. Its fate is largely in the hands of the two moderates, Sinema and Manchin, because the Senate is evenly divided, 50-50.  

Both senators have said the bill is too large and must be trimmed to win their support.

Another factor: House progressives are demanding that the Senate vote on the larger bill first, or they will not support the smaller $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed with bipartisan support in the Senate.

Late Tuesday, the president canceled a scheduled Wednesday trip to Chicago to talk about COVID-19 vaccines, so he can stay in town and work on advancing the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. 

Sinema, of Arizona, declined to answer questions about her meeting with the president upon her return to Capitol Hill. She has said little publicly about what she wants to see cut from the final reconciliation bill, except to note its price is too high. Sinema is scheduled to hold a fundraiser Tuesday with business lobbying groups that oppose the reconciliation bill, according to the New York Times. 

"I will leave it to them to convey where they are comfortable in terms of topline numbers, but the president felt it was constructive, felt they moved the ball forward, felt there was agreement that we're at a pivotal moment," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after the president's meeting with Sinema but before the meeting with her West Virginia colleague had concluded. 

Manchin also divulged little after his meeting with the president, saying it lasted maybe 60 or 90 minutes.

"We're still dealing in good faith," Manchin said of the various meetings he's had over the reconciliation bill. 

But he has expressed concerns about some of the climate provisions in the bill, as well as the expansion of Medicare.

"The people that are getting Medicare now just want to make sure they're going to get it, they're not going to have their services cut by 2026, when it goes insolvent, that's the thing they're concerned about," he told reporters earlier this month. 

At this point, the reconciliation bill includes a $150 billion "clean electricity performance program" that would pay utility companies to source their energy from renewables, a program that's modeled on clean energy standards adopted by some states. The West Virginia senator objects to the program and said it would unnecessarily provide financial incentives for energy providers.

"The transition is happening," Manchin said on CNN earlier this month. "Now they're wanting to pay companies to do what they're already doing. It makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they're going to do as the market transitions."

The reconciliation measure also incentivizes electric vehicle purchases and construction of EV charging stations. It would offer consumer rebates to homeowners who weatherfit their homes; give tax credits to companies building sources of clean energy; charge oil and gas producers for methane leaks; help farmers reduce their carbon footprint and invest in climate research.

Manchin authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month protesting spending trillions of dollars, citing concerns over inflation and burdening future generations. 

"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. 

— CBS News' Alan He contributed to this report.

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