Democratic senator Joe Manchin had an awkward exchange with protesters from the deck of his yacht this week as his party was forced to delay voting on two infrastructure bills because he has opposed parts of the legislation.
From his $250,000 boat named “Almost Heaven” on the Potomac River in DC, the centrist from West Virginia explained why he opposed a major part of the bill championed by progressives – the expansion of Medicare to include dental and vision care, and hearing aids.
“We will get to that eventually, but right now we can’t even take care…it’s going to go broke in 2026,” he said of the medicare trust fund. “Let us fix and repair that first.”
Mr Manchin’s words were booed by activists who had reached the senator in a small fleet of kayaks to urge him to support various aspects of the reconciliation bill.
Democrats hope to pass the bill on a party line basis and sign into law using a budget measure to avoid expected unified opposition from Republicans.
“This is our one chance right now to pass this legislation,” one protester told the senator, pointing out that Republicans are widely projected to win control of at least one chamber of Congress next year.
The Independent contacted Mr Manchin’s office to inquire about whether the image of him appearing onboard an expensive houseboat clashes with his demand that Democrats slash roughly $2trillion worth of programs from the $3.5tn reconciliation bill.
Mr Manchin is opposed to the expansion of Medicare. He told the protesters that it will be unable to fully cover health insurance costs by 2026 unless action is taken by Congress to increase revenues or cut spending.
Democrats reset the deadline for the passage of their two infrastructure bills to 31 October on Saturday after Mr Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema indicated they both opposed the reconciliation bill at its current size, triggering a threat from dozens of House members to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure compromise bill unless the Senate first passed the $3.5 tn package and sent it to the House.
Progressives have seethed at the two conservative members of their party’s Senate caucus in recent days over their opposition to the $3.5tn number and publicly vowed to seek out and fund primary challengers to the pair, though Ms Sinema and Mr Manchin are not up for reelection until 2024.