The public feud between Vermont’s U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and West Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin escalated when a Sanders commentary was published in Manchin’s hometown newspaper, going after the moderate Democrat’s opposition to a $3.5 trillion domestic budget.
In the piece published by the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Friday, Sanders laid out how the budget could help West Virginians, then pointed to Manchin as one of the major roadblocks to its passage.
“Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation. Yet, the political problem we face is that, in a 50-50 Senate, we need every Democratic senator to vote ‘yes,’” Sanders wrote. “We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.”
Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, serves as the Senate Budget Committee chair, putting him at the helm of budget negotiations alongside Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden.
Along with Manchin, Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, has positioned herself as a moderate opposed to several social provisions in the budget proposal. With all 50 Democrats needed to pass the budget without Republican support, Manchin and Sinema alone have the power to block the package.
Manchin, who has represented West Virginia in the Senate since 2010, fired back at Sanders’ op-ed in a statement: “This isn’t the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state.”
“Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs,” Manchin said Friday night, according to Politico. “No op-ed from a self-declared independent socialist is going to change that.”
This weekend’s exchange comes after weeks of rising tensions between the two senators. At a press conference earlier this month, Sanders lambasted Manchin and Sinema for opposing the budget without offering specific recommendations for amendments, telling Washington reporters that “it’s not good enough to be vague.”
Manchin replied that Sanders “believes America should be moving towards an entitlement society, while I believe we should have a compassionate and rewarding society.”
Last week, Sanders and his Vermont colleague, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, assured Vermont reporters that the budget would pass. But Leahy appeared frustrated with his Senate colleagues, saying he is tired of them citing political optics as a reason to oppose legislation popular with the public.
“These are issues that the vast majority of Americans across the political spectrum, throughout the country, support,” Leahy said. “Then why the hell don’t we get down there and vote for them?”
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