The Memo: Failure on big bill would spark cascade of trouble for Biden
President Biden’s push to pass his big social spending bill has stalled for now — and the loss of momentum threatens to spark a cascade of difficulties for the White House.
Many Democrats, especially on the left, are furious with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the most prominent holdout against a deal on the legislation. But others in the party say Manchin has been largely consistent in his positions and that the White House has been guilty of wishful thinking regarding its ability to sway him.
While Democrats fret, Republicans are gleeful. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel on Wednesday that he thinks Biden’s plan, known as Build Back Better, is “dead forever.”
If the plan runs aground, the failure will seriously deplete the president’s political capital, deliver a blow to his image as the consummate dealmaker and deprive Democrats of a major selling point in the midterm elections.
Heightening the dangers, both politically and substantively, a lapse could also leave millions of Americans missing the checks to which they had grown accustomed after an expanded child tax credit was passed earlier this year.
The latter point is the most urgent of concern for lawmakers across the Democratic spectrum. Unless some measure is passed before the end of this month to extend the tax credit, the payments will not be made in January.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) told this column via text message that it would be “a major problem” if people in his district did not receive those checks.
“More people benefit from the CTC [child tax credit] in my district than any other in the state, 155,000 children! Will be a mess if this lapses,” Boyle said.
Earlier this week, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a member of the left-wing group of lawmakers known as “the squad,” focused on the political damage that would likely be incurred by such a failure.
She also highlighted the festering suspicion and frustration between progressives and moderates as a difficult election season looms.
“A note to Democrats who blame progressives after losing an election: Forcing millions to start paying student loans again and cutting off the Child Tax Credit at the start of an election year is not a winning strategy. We’re warning you now, don’t point fingers in November,” Bush wrote on Twitter.
White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted during Thursday’s media briefing that the votes simply aren’t there to pass a standalone measure extending the tax credit. By implication, it will have to be extended via Build Back Better or nothing.
“The reality is you need 60 votes in the Senate,” to pass a standalone measure, Jean-Pierre said. “We do not have 60 votes in the Senate.”
In terms of the bigger picture, there is deepening pessimism in Democratic circles about the fate of the huge social spending bill. Talks between Biden and Manchin this week failed to make meaningful progress, instead exposing the breadth of the gulf that remained.
Manchin has never committed to supporting the Build Back Better plan, even though it has been scaled down significantly, largely at his behest.
Amid the impasse, both the White House and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have backed off earlier pledges to try to move the legislation before Christmas.
And Biden himself appears to be turning his attention to voting rights rather than the social spending plan that has been the keystone of his domestic agenda. On Wednesday, Biden said there was “nothing domestically more important than voting rights.”
The outlook for voting rights is even bleaker than it ever was for Build Back Better, however. Thanks to unified Republican opposition, movement on the topic will be impossible without reform of the Senate filibuster — something Manchin also opposes.
And in the meantime, the president and his party could have a big failure to grapple with.
“Two-thirds of voters want Build Back Better passed,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted on Thursday. “What are we supposed to tell them if the child tax credit payments end, prescription drug prices continue to skyrocket, and the climate crisis worsens? Sorry, the Senate decided to deal with it later?”
Activists on the left are frank in their outrage.
Progressive strategist Jonathan Tasini told this column that he was struck by the contrast between progressives “both in the Senate and the House who have acted like adults by giving up certain things in order to see the big picture, versus one single egomaniac [Manchin] who, childishly and erroneously, on his own accord, is willing to sink the whole package.”
Manchin, Tasini charged, “is essentially, single-handedly ensuring the annihilation of the Democratic Party in the midterm elections.”
For now, most Democratic lawmakers seem to be focusing on the child tax credit.
“The least we could do for the 61 million kids across America who are getting the benefit of this tax cut is to extend it,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) told MSNBC’s Katy Tur on Thursday afternoon.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Thursday he was “stunned” by Manchin’s position on the child tax credit.
Behind the scenes, some Democrats hold on to reeds of hope.
If Build Back Better were to pass before Biden’s State of the Union address, usually delivered in January, that could save the day, they say — in part because it would come at a time when people pay closer attention to politics than in the run-up to the December holidays.
There is also a belief that Democrats could sell what they have achieved in a more effective way.
During the Thursday media briefing, Jean-Pierre drew attention to the large job gains during Biden’s presidency, to progress against the pandemic and to Democrats having passed “several of the most impactful [pieces of] economic legislation in American history” despite “two of the narrowest majorities possible.”
Those arguments might gain traction in time.
But right now, with the fate of Build Back Better so perilous, the gloom is deepening for Democrats.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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