By Daniella Diaz, CNN
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that Democrats are moving “full speed ahead” on the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill despite the call for a “strategic pause” and smaller price tag from moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
“We’re moving full speed ahead,” Schumer said on a call with reporters. “We are moving forward on this bill.”
Schumer’s remarks come nearly a week after Manchin asked for the pause on the timeline Democratic leaders have laid out for the budget reconciliation bill.
Manchin has also been privately suggesting to his colleagues that $1 trillion-$1.5 trillion is the price tag he could accept in the Democrats’ reconciliation bill, according to a source who has spoken to him. He also suggested the 2017 tax law — which he opposed — could be amended to raise enough taxes to ensure the bill is fully paid for, the source said.
Schumer dismissed these concerns to reporters on the call Wednesday.
“There are some in my caucus who believe $3.5 trillion is too much. There are some in my caucus who believe it’s too little,” he said. “And we’re going to work very hard to have unity, because without unity, we’re not going to get anything.”
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats and was also on the call, added, “To my mind, this bill, that $3.5 trillion is already the result of a major, major compromise.”
Regarding which policies will be in the budget reconciliation bill, Schumer said the bill — which is still being drafted — includes Medicare expansion to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits.
“These benefits are undeniably important for our nation seniors and were left out of Medicare at the beginning when they shouldn’t have been,” Schumer said.
Medicare expansion is something Sanders has been fighting to include in the bill, though that proposal could prove costly.
When asked about these disagreements that are beginning to arise within the two chambers and the White House on what to include in the legislation, Schumer suggested they are still working on these disagreements.
“Our goal is to have a joint proposal that can the President, the House Dems and the Senate Dems can pass, and support and we are working towards that goal we’re working well towards that goal,” Schumer said. “There are some disagreements as always comes about, but I am pleased with the progress we’re making.”
“It is no great secret that you got 200 plus members of the House, there are disagreements there,” Sanders added. “There are 50 Democratic members of the Senate, there are disagreements there.”
He also added he does not want a potential Medicare dental benefit “drawn out as far as the House has proposed,” which would not take effect until 2028 as it’s currently written in the plans released by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. The House has 13 committees of jurisdiction that have been working behind the scenes to get their portions of the reconciliation package done and ready for a floor vote later this month.
Manchin’s suggested price tag for the reconciliation bill is already facing push back from Rep. Mondaire Jones, a New York progressive House member who threatened to vote against the Senate’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan deal if the reconciliation bill “doesn’t meet the moment.”
“$1.5 trillion is not going to cut it,” Jones said Wednesday on CNN’s “Inside Politics,” adding, “The idea of a $1.5 trillion price tag being sufficient to accomplish those goals for the people is fanciful.”
With Democrats controlling Congress by such a slim margin, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can’t afford to lose many votes in either chamber.
On the debt ceiling, Schumer said Republicans withholding votes on a debt limit bill would be a “horrible act, despicable act.”
“It would be just the height of responsibility for Republicans to play games to take the debt limit hostage,” he said. “That would be playing with the full faith and credit of the United States. It would be a horrible act, a despicable act, really.”
Pelosi said Congress would raise the debt ceiling, though she added it would not be done through reconciliation.
“We won’t be putting it in reconciliation, no,” Pelosi said during a news conference on Capitol Hill at the same time as this call with Schumer. “When President Trump was President, we Democrats supported lifting the debt ceiling because it’s the responsible thing to do. I would hope that the Republicans would act in a similarly responsible way.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
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CNN’s Manu Raju, Morgan Rimmer, Jessica Dean, Lauren Fox and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.