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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Manchin Won’t Back Biden’s $2 Trillion “Build Back Better” Bill

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, dealt a death blow to President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion domestic program, jeopardizing his party’s agenda, anger the White House, and leaving outraged colleagues eager to salvage what’s left of a primary goal.

The West Virginia senator’s bold announcement, made on “Fox News Sunday” after only a cursory heads-up to the president’s staff, could jeopardize not only Biden’s “Build Back Better Act,” but also the passage of voting rights legislation and other major bills that would require his vote in the 50-50 Senate.

Republicans hailed Manchin as a trailblazer for joining all Republican senators in opposing Biden’s massive social-services and climate-change plan. Progressive Democrats, on the other hand, painted Manchin as a deal-breaker who broke his promise, and even moderates slammed him after months of negotiations. The senator, a lifelong Democrat, was also questioned about if he is making a final break with his party.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, tweeted, “We knew he would do this.” Manchin can no longer claim to be a “man of his word,” according to Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, a leader of the House progressives.

“Let him vote no in front of the whole world if he doesn’t have the fortitude to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who leads the Budget Committee, said on CNN.

The next steps are extremely unpredictable now that Congress is on break for the holidays. Some Democrats demanded that the Senate be called back into session to compel a vote, but this looked improbable. Others hustled to reclaim Manchin’s support and gather up the parts of what one aide described to a jigsaw puzzle strewn over the floor. Biden’s image as a skilled negotiator was in jeopardy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to set a positive tone, telling House Democrats and others that a deal could be achieved before the end of the year. Pelosi encouraged members of her caucus to emphasize the measure’s impact on constituents while “barnstorming” the country in the weeks ahead, rather than condemning Manchin (her message didn’t mention him by name).

“It’s critical that American households understand how this once-in-a-generation infrastructure investment will benefit them,” Pelosi added.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, delivered an uncharacteristically harsh response to a legislator who had been courted personally by the president and whose vote is important.

“We’ll keep putting pressure on him to see if he’ll change his mind, fulfill his previous pledges, and keep his word,” Psaki added.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” Manchin said on Sunday, following five-and-a-half months of deliberations among Democrats.

“I can’t get there,” Manchin remarked.

While Manchin was adamant in his rejection, his choice of words regarding this particular bill appeared to leave the door open for further discussions with Biden and other Democrats about changing it.

Nonetheless, the West Virginia senator has all but indicated the bill would die unless it meets his constant requests for a smaller package – something that many Democrats in the Congress, even if they had few other alternatives, would find difficult to embrace.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, a member of the Democratic leadership, said her push for the bill’s full benefits “will not end until it reaches the President’s desk.”

Hundreds of billions of dollars would be allocated to support millions of families by establishing free preschool and increasing child care assistance. It would strengthen federal health-insurance subsidies and extend Medicaid access in states that have not yet done so.

More than $500 billion is set up for tax rebates and investment targeted at reducing carbon emissions, with several major elements negotiated by Manchin, making it the greatest government expenditure ever to tackle climate change.

Other proposals would set a cap on prescription medication price rises, provide Medicare users with hearing aid, and boost assistance for the elderly, housing, and job training. Almost all of it would be paid for by raising taxes on the rich and big businesses.

The expiry of an enlarged child tax credit, which has been delivering up to $300 monthly straight to millions of families’ bank accounts, might be a fresh deadline for Biden and his party. If Congress does not act, the funds will not be available in January.

Despite months of talks, Biden and Manchin’s conversations exploded this week, indicating that there would be no year-end agreement.

Manchin had “in person” presented Biden a written proposal last Tuesday that had “the same size and breadth” as a framework for the measure that Democrats rallied around in October, according to Psaki, and he agreed to continue conversations. The cost of such structure was $1.85 trillion over ten years. That Tuesday meeting had been kept under wraps by officials.

The conversation did not go well, according to several accounts of what happened next. According to a source familiar with the closed-door discussions, the discussion heated up after Manchin proposed reducing the child tax credit. To reveal specifics of the negotiations, the individual insisted on anonymity.

Biden and Manchin had previously been reported to have drifted apart by the Associated Press.

According to another person familiar with Manchin’s activities who spoke on the condition of anonymity, a Manchin staffer gave the White House roughly a 20-minute warning before the senator revealed his position on national television on Sunday.

Manchin’s statement was a surprising rebuke of Biden’s and his party’s main aim, recalling Sen. John McCain’s historic thumbs-down vote in 2017 that destroyed President Donald Trump’s attempt to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health-care program. Other issues with Biden’s package have surfaced, including one triggered by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, but Manchin’s sticks out.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the leading Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, spent weeks attempting to persuade Manchin to oppose the plan and said, “I very much appreciate” Manchin’s opposition.

Many consider a rejection of the bill as unfathomable because of the political harm it may do Democrats, especially ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when their control of Congress appears to be in jeopardy.

“Failure is not an option,” Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, said, echoing moderates’ wish for the package to be refocused on fewer programs.

Manchin stated he was against the 10-year, $2 trillion plan because he was concerned about inflation, the government debt, and the need to concentrate on the omicron COVID-19 version.

He also wants the bill’s initiatives to last the whole 10-year period, but that’s a tough order given that the Democrats made many of them temporary in order to bring the bill’s overall cost down to a level Manchin could live with.

Democrats refute Manchin’s claims that the package will increase inflation and exacerbate fiscal problems. They claim that its job training, education, and other efforts will help to boost economic growth and lower inflation in the long run.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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