Biden to restart talks with Manchin after ‘cooling off’ period
Senate Democrats on Tuesday say they expect President Biden to restart talks with holdout Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) after a “cooling off” period that will extend until the Senate finishes debate on voting rights legislation and rules reform.
Senate Democrats agreed at a virtual lunchtime meeting Tuesday that everyone in their caucus would take a deep breath and step back from the heated debate over Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending plan to give Manchin some space.
Manchin told reporters on Tuesday morning that there are “no negotiations going on at this time” over Biden’s stalled “Build Back Better” agenda.
Democratic senators say they have agreed to a cooling off period to give Biden and Manchin time to restart the talks that collapsed after Manchin told “Fox News Sunday” on Dec. 19 that he could not support the $1.75 trillion framework unveiled by the White House in October.
“We all acknowledge, understand there’s a cooling off period and we need to give a little distance to Manchin and Biden on this so they can come back together and try again,” said a Democratic senator who participated in Tuesday’s caucus discussion.
“My guess is there will be a very significant reworking of the bill,” the lawmaker added.
Senate Democrats touched only briefly on the plan to revive the Build Back Better Act on Tuesday and spent most of the lunchtime discussion focused on voting rights legislation, which they expect to come to the floor next week.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday that he expects Biden and senior White House officials to resume negotiations with Manchin in the near future.
“I believe the Biden administration will be having discussions with Manchin, with his cooperation and participation on BBB as we move forward,” he said.
Schumer said he had “numerous” conversations with Manchin during the two-week Christmas recess, acknowledging “most of the discussions were on voting rights but we did touch on BBB.”
Manchin on Tuesday reiterated his opposition to Build Back Better when asked about potential changes to the bill that might secure his support.
“I’m really not going to talk about Build Back Better anymore because I think I’ve been very clear on that,” he said.
The West Virginia senator, however, indicated that he could support a package built around the climate-related provisions of the package, which include significant benefits to the fossil fuel industry, such as tax incentives to produce blue hydrogen from natural gas and tax credits for carbon capture technology that could allow some coal plants to extend their productive lifetimes.
“The climate thing is one that we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else,” he told reporters Tuesday, adding: “There’s a lot of good things in there.”
But Manchin also said he’s been “very clear” in stating his support for creating a work requirement for the enhanced child tax credit, a centerpiece of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which expired at the end of last month.
Manchin’s opposition to including a one-year extension of the enhanced child tax credit was a major reason why talks with the White House collapsed last month.
He has also voiced skepticism in private discussions with colleagues about lifting the cap on state and local tax deductions, according to senators familiar with the negotiations.
Democratic senators acknowledge the bill will have to be overhauled to secure Manchin’s support and concede they don’t yet know what pieces of it will have to be jettisoned to secure all 50 votes in the Democratic caucus.
The question is whether progressives will still support the bill if popular items such as the enhanced child tax credit and a national paid family leave program are dropped to secure Manchin’s vote.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday declined to say whether he would support a bill that failed to extend the enhanced child tax credit, which has provided $300 monthly payments to middle- and lower-income families with kids under age 6.
“I think it’s one of the more important things that we’ve done. Cutting child poverty in the United States in half is a major accomplishment and I hope we don’t abandon it,” he said of the enhanced tax credit.
One proposal that finds strong support in Democratic polling is the compromise proposal negotiated with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to reduce the prices of some prescription drugs.
It would limit the out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients to $2,000 a year and cap insulin expenses at $35 a month.
That has a better chance of being included in a reworked package than a proposal to expand Medicare benefits to cover dental, vision and hearing care, something that Manchin has repeatedly criticized because of his concerns over Medicare’s solvency.
“You’ve got to stabilize that first before you look at basically expansion,” Manchin said in October, referring to Medicare’s trust fund. “So if we’re not being fiscally responsible, that’s a concern.”
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said legislation to lower the price of prescription drugs, expand Medicare benefits and raise taxes on wealthy individuals earning more than $400,000 a year are the most popular elements of the Build Back Better agenda.
“For over a year, BBB has been more popular than members [of Congress] have been,” she said. “That’s something they should remember.”
She said “there are parts of BBB that are actually increasing in terms of popularity, like the prescription drug piece.”
She noted that drug companies raised prices on more than 400 drugs at the start of this year by a median of 4.9 percent, including medications to treat HIV, breast cancer and cystic fibrosis.
“If that continues, it’s a major fueler of inflation,” she said, alluding to Manchin’s oft-expressed concerns about rising consumer prices.
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