Washington - A key centrist U.S. lawmaker, Senator Joe Manchin, on Sunday staunchly defended a legislative deal he negotiated that would affect an array of climate, health care, prescription drug and tax policies, saying that in "normal times" opposition Republicans would support it even though they are now uniformly lining up against it.
Manchin told CNN's "State of the Union" show that usually "my Republican colleagues would be for something such as this. We've basically paid down debt, [which] is what they want. We've accelerated permitting [for more energy drilling], which is what they want. And we've increased production of energy, which is what they want. We've done things that we should be doing together."
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Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, has bickered for more than a year with fellow Senate Democratic colleagues and the White House over President Joe Biden's original $2 trillion social safety net and climate change legislation. But last week, to the shock of the Washington political world, Manchin agreed on a pared-down $739-billion package after intense negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
It calls for spending a total of $433 billion to combat climate change over the next few years by encouraging purchase of electric vehicles even as some additional fossil fuel drilling would be allowed, extend U.S. health care benefits for millions of Americans, permit government negotiations with pharmaceutical companies on drug prices and force highly profitable businesses to pay a minimum tax.
It also would reduce the annual chronic U.S. government budget deficits by about $300 billion over a decade.
Senate Democrats, over vocal protests from Republican lawmakers opposed to any tax increases, hope to pass the legislation this week. But the path to approval in the politically divided Senate is not assured, with another centrist Democrat, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, yet to voice an opinion on the legislation.
Democrats need all 50 of their own votes in the 100-member chamber and the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to overcome unanimous Republican opposition.
Manchin said the measure would help fight surging U.S. consumer prices that were up at an annualized 9.1% rate in June, the fastest pace in four decades. He rejected claims by some Republicans that the measure is 'inflammatory" and would add to inflation.
'How can it add flames to inflation fires right now if you're paying down debt?' he said. "This changes the whole landscape in America. This is good for America."
"This is not a Democratic bill, not a Republican bill, but a red, white and blue bill," Manchin said, referencing the colors of the American flag.
Republicans, however, are attacking Manchin's proposal. If approved by Congress, the bill would give Biden a major legislative victory three months ahead of national congressional elections halfway through his four-year term in the White House at a time when pollsters say Republicans are poised to take control of the House of Republicans and possibly the Senate.
Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told ABC's "This Week" show he thinks Democrats' proposed minimum taxes on highly profitable companies that now pay nothing would encourage them "to move to Asia."
On CNN, Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said, "It really looks like Joe Manchin got taken to the cleaners. This is a disaster. It's going to increase our recession, our inflation. I'm really surprised he agreed to this."
Toomey said various provisions of the Manchin proposal "may feel good but they won't do anything" to improve the U.S. economy.