Democrats face tough choices on Biden plan after Manchin setback

Democratic leaders are facing painful decisions and intraparty tensions as they look for a path forward on President Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) effectively struck a death knell for the roughly $2 trillion House-passed bill during a “Fox News Sunday” interview, sparking a blame game among congressional Democrats and White House officials for not reaching a consensus with the moderate-minded senator.

But Democratic leaders and the White House, seeking to salvage a key piece of their legislative agenda, are vowing to push forward, even as they face uncertainty about what comes next.

“There’s a lot in that bill that I hope we can still get through,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said. “There’s a great deal there that I support, that I imagine the majority of Americans support.” 

To get a bill to Biden’s desk, Democrats need to come up with revised legislation that can win over Manchin without alienating progressives, who are growing increasingly restless and frustrated with their conservative colleagues as they’ve watched some of their biggest priorities stall out. 

“There are conversations that are ongoing, but we cannot walk away from this commitment,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday.

Democrats are spread out across the country for roughly two weeks, giving them time away from each other after a tense year to decompress and brainstorm. But they are already floating potential next steps as they prepare to go back to the drawing board to figure out what components of Build Back Better could still survive.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is floating a package that would tie together prescription drugs, clean energy, the beefed up child tax credit and ObamaCare tax credits. Such a bill, according to Wyden, could be permanently paid for over a 10-year period through the same revenue sources that his committee has already pieced together for the more sweeping legislation. 

“Democrats have made key promises to families who need more support. Failure is not an option here,” Wyden said. 

New Democratic Coalition Chair Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) noted in a statement that the group had previously called for a bill that focused on fewer areas but funded for a longer period of time.

“We believe that adopting such an approach could open a potential path forward for this legislation,” she said. 

But figuring out what a smaller bill would look like, or if it would even be viable, is easier said than done. 

Manchin, during an interview with WVMetroNews’s Hoppy Kercheval, said that he was always willing to talk — comments quickly highlighted by White House chief of staff Ron Klain — but indicated that he wanted a dramatic overhaul that would go back through Senate committees and focus on changes to the 2017 GOP tax bill. 

“We have one chance at this, OK? You have a chance to fix the tax code that makes it fair and equitable,” Manchin said, adding that if all Democrats “disagree with Republicans’ reconciliation on tax cuts, don’t you think we can sit down and fix a fair and equitable tax code?”

Despite hopes of getting Manchin on board in recent weeks, the West Virginia senator also underscored how at odds the two sides seemed to be, saying that they were “far apart philosophically” and that he wanted “responsibility and accountability” to any social reforms. Manchin has pushed for work requirements and income restrictions.

“The same bill I have in front of me right now that they kept putting in front of me, was the same $6 trillion bill from the beginning,” he said, referring to the estimated costs if the temporary programs were extended.

Manchin, during the radio interview, noted that he and Biden had been discussing a roughly $1.75 trillion bill during their negotiations last week. Manchin’s offer, before the talks blew up, included universal pre-K for 10 years, extending the Affordable Care Act expansion and hundreds of billions to combat climate change, according to The Washington Post.

But Manchin’s proposal didn’t include an extension of the child tax credit, making it a hard sell for both the White House and many of Manchin’s Democratic colleagues who view that as a must-have in any legislation. 

There’s already deep distrust between Manchin and progressives, with the setback for the climate and social spending bill reopening olds wounds between the two factions that dominated much of the year. 

Manchin and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) spoke on Monday. The House lawmaker told reporters that she believed Manchin had a “lack of integrity.” 

Jayapal and most of her caucus previously voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, negotiated by a Senate group that included Manchin, with the understanding that Biden could deliver all 50 Senate Democrats to vote for the reconciliation bill. 

“I am sure that the conversations about legislation will continue, and we will continue to be involved in that. But no one should think that we are going to be satisfied with an even smaller package that leaves people behind or refuses to tackle critical issues like climate change,” Jayapal told reporters. 

Jayapal is calling on Biden to use executive action to address areas that can’t make it through Congress, saying it is “incumbent” on the president to “keep his promise to us.” The Progressive Caucus is expected to release details on what they would like to see from Biden after its executive board meets virtually. 

“We will be beginning to work on that immediately and calling for widespread action that makes life better for people across America and lets the fossil fuel industry and Big Pharma and all the lobbyists who have worked so hard to kill the president’s agenda — it let them know that they have not won against the American people,” Jayapal said. 

In a nod to progressives, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pledging that he will force multiple votes on the Build Back Better legislation, even though Manchin said he can’t support the roughly $2 trillion bill that was passed by the House earlier this year, which leaves Democrats without the 50 votes needed to pass the reconciliation bill.

“We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act – and we will keep voting on it until we get something done,” Schumer said, adding, in an unusual veiled barb at Manchin, that senators should make their positions known “on the Senate floor, not just on television.” 

Schumer’s decision to move forward with a vote that seems guaranteed to fail comes as he’s facing calls from loud voices within his own conference to bring the bill to the floor for a vote regardless of whether it has enough votes to move forward. Because Democrats are using reconciliation to bypass the filibuster, they need all 50 of their members to start debate on the spending legislation. 

“If Sen. Joe Manchin wants to vote against the Build Back Better Act, he should have the opportunity to do so with a floor vote as soon as the Senate returns,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), echoing a demand shared by several of his colleagues. 

Manchin, during Monday’s radio interview, said that he had told Sanders and other senators who were frustrated by the lack of action on Build Back Better to bring the legislation up for a vote and see what happens. 

“All of my colleagues are getting very frustrated. I can understand that. And I said, gentlemen and ladies, it’s time to vote,” he said. “I can’t guarantee anything upfront, just vote, you’ll find out where I am.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden agenda Build Back Better Act Chuck Schumer Joe Biden Joe Manchin Nancy Pelosi Patrick Leahy Pramila Jayapal progressives Ron Klain Ron Wyden Suzan DelBene United States Senators

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