WASHINGTON - Sen. Joe Manchin hasn't signed onto a proposed billionaire tax, a key element of efforts by congressional Democrats to strike a deal Wednesday on a huge spending package.
The White House had hoped to wrap up the negotiations on the bill before President Joe Biden jets off to Europe for meetings with international leaders. But even as Democratic leaders optimistically signaled an impending agreement, key lawmakers said there were still major issues to resolve.
"I don't like the connotation that we're targeting different people. There's people that basically, they've contributed to society, they've created a lot of jobs, and invested a lot of money and give a lot to philanthropic pursuits," Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters Wednesday when asked about the billionaire tax.
"But it's time that we all pull together and row together."
A Manchin aide said he's conflicted about the idea but hasn't closed the door.
Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he's "upbeat" about the progress toward winning all 50 Democrats for a plan to tax billionaires.
Wyden told reporters Wednesday that he and Manchin are discussing the matter, and that they agree that "everybody should pay their fair share policy." He added that "there has not been a single United States senator" who says they're "supportive of the idea that billionaires should pay nothing."
White House officials are set to meet Wednesday with Manchin, of West Virginia, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, two Democrats who have chipped away at Biden's "Build Back Better" proposal.
Biden met with the two senators at the White House on Tuesday.
Sinema ignored questions about whether she supports the billionaire tax.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., asked about the billionaire tax, said the "devil is in the details." The legislative text hasn't been fully fleshed out or evaluated by Congress's nonpartisan scorekeeper.
Wednesday's meeting will take place at the Capitol with White House officials including Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president; and Louisa Terrell, director of legislative affairs.
"An agreement is within arm's length, and we are hopeful that we can come to a framework agreement by the end of today," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday.
Schumer added that Democrats are "going to make sure the tax system is very progressive and meets our goals, and we're finding many different ways, and nothing has been foreclosed on."
Even as Manchin raised alarm that he might not be willing to sign onto key elements being negotiated, he voiced optimism that an agreement could be within reach.
"Absolutely" a deal can be reached as early as Wednesday, Manchin told reporters. He added, "When I say deal, we need to move forward."
Manchin said he doesn't plan on meeting with the president Wednesday.
Moderate Democrats, especially Manchin and Sinema, have taken issue with several aspects of Biden's spending agenda and have sought a smaller price tag than the $3.5 trillion that was initially being considered in Congress.
The remaining issues include paid family and medical leave. Manchin is also souring on Medicare vouchers to help cover annual dental costs, as well as a push to expand Medicaid in Republican-led states that have not expanded coverage. Biden's original proposal called for broadening Medicare coverage to include dental care.
The proposal for paid leave "may be one that is in real trouble," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. "We're still trying to talk about it."
Some Democrats said too many key components of Biden's spending package have already been gutted to satisfy Manchin and Sinema. New opposition to paid family leave, a priority for Biden and progressives, would be a significant setback in negotiations over the bill.
Without any Republican support, Democrats cannot afford to lose any of their 50 votes in the Senate and must hold their narrow majority together in the House.
Biden told reporters earlier on Monday that it is his "hope" to reach an agreement on the social policy bill before he leaves this week for the G20 summit in Rome and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
"It'd be very, very positive to get it done before the trip," Biden said.