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During heated negotiations, Manchin tells Sanders he's 'comfortable with zero' dollars for Biden's social spending plan: 'We shouldn't do it at all'

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Sen. Joe Manchin (left) (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) Sen. Bernie Sanders (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Democratic negotiations on President Joe Biden's multitrillion-dollar "Build Back Better" spending plan don't seem to be progressing the way the Biden administration had hoped.

Despite public words of optimism and a cheery photo-op Monday, closed-door talks between Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) have reportedly gone sour.

What are the details?

Axios reported that during a Wednesday lunch for Democratic Senate committee chairs, the two lawmakers sparred over everything from the finer details of the plan to whether they should even advance a large spending plan at all.

At the end of the meeting, a massive chasm of $3 trillion to $6 trillion still existed between the two sides.

"Joe said, 'I'm comfortable with nothing.' Bernie said, 'We need to do three-and-a-half [trillion dollars].' The truth is both of them are in different spots," Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mt.), chairman of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, reportedly told Axios following the meeting.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who was also present at the meeting, said, "There was a vigorous, 10-minute discussion. Bernie said, '$6 trillion.'"

At one point, "[Manchin] said, 'We shouldn't do it at all,'" Coons recounted, adding that the West Virginia lawmaker argued, "This will contribute to inflation. We've already passed the American Rescue Plan. We should just pass the infrastructure bill and, you know, pause for six months."

Tester said that Manchin reiterated, "I'm comfortable with zero," and formed a raised-fist goose egg in order to get his opinion across with particular clarity.

What else?

Axios noted that Manchin's comfort level with not doing the spending plan at all, along with his willingness to sharply oppose Sanders in front of other Democrats, "reveals a stark reality for Democratic negotiators: Manchin can control the final dollar amount."

Nevertheless, colleagues of the two lawmakers continued to project aspirations that a deal could be reached by Friday.

Overall, Coons claimed there was "significant progress." Tester chalked the squabbling up to a mere "difference in opinion." Both he and Tester assured Axios that a top-line figure could still be brokered this week.

They might want to check with Manchin. The West Virginia senator plainly told reporters Thursday afternoon, "This is not gonna happen anytime soon, guys."

Anything else?

Subsequent reports have indicated that any brokered deal is likely to come in at a significantly lower dollar amount than the $3.5 trillion initially proposed by the Biden administration.

Democrats have already reportedly dropped free college tuition from the plan in order to make the bill more appealing to the likes of Manchin and other moderates. In recent days, Biden has reportedly floated a $1.75 trillion to $2 trillion top line.

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