Manchin pours water on Biden’s attempt to revive Build Back Better
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) poured cold water on President Biden’s attempt to revive the core elements of his Build Back Better agenda, questioning the president’s claim that passing a $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion spending package would “lower costs” for most Americans.
“They just can’t help themselves,” Manchin quipped when asked by reporters after Biden’s State of the Union speech whether he was surprised by the president’s effort to try to use the moment to try to revive his stalled climate and social spending plan.
“I don’t know where that came from,” he joked.
“Nothing’s changed,” he said.
“There might be parts they want to talk about. I don’t know. That was a little bit far,” he added, referring to the list of expensive Build Back Better items that Biden tried to put back on the table Thursday evening.
Manchin also sounded skeptical about Biden’s claim that his Build Back Better plan will fight inflation by lowering costs.
“I’ve never found out that you can lower costs by spending more,” he said.
That answer prompted Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who was walking alongside Manchin across the Capitol Rotunda and sat with Manchin during the address, to exclaim, “You can’t say it better than that.”
Manchin’s comments immediately raised serious doubts about whether Biden will be able to resuscitate his spending package, which stalled in December after months of negotiations.
Biden tried to appeal to Manchin, the only remaining holdout vote in the Democratic caucus, by arguing that his agenda will help offset the impact of rising prices by lowering the costs of middle-class families.
“One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation. Lower your costs, not your wages,” he said.
“Seventeen Nobel laureates in economics say my plan will ease long-term inflationary pressures. Top business leader and most Americans support my plan,” he declared.
The president then ticked off several key components of the Build Back Better package he negotiated with Manchin last year, including a proposal to give Medicare authority to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, a plan to double solar and wind energy production, and a proposal to lower the price of electric vehicles.
Biden also highlighted his proposal to cut the cost of child care, subsidize long-term home health care for seniors and the disabled, and universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Manchin, however, appears more interested in working with Republicans on bipartisan legislation than on trying to revive the Build Back Better Act, which Democrats hope to pass through the Senate on a straight party-line vote under special budget reconciliation rules.
Manchin exited the speech flanked by two Republican colleagues, Romney and Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.).
And he sat on the Republican side of the aisle during the speech.
His spokesperson told NBC that “Manchin sat with his colleague Sen. Romney to remind the American people and the world that bipartisanship works and is alive and well in the U.S. Senate.”
Manchin on Tuesday evening said now is not the time for the United States to try to cut down dramatically on fossil fuel production when the president and European allies are imposing severe new sanctions on Russia, a major producer of oil and natural gas.
He said that the United States not only has to be energy independent but also has to help make up for the potential loss of Russian energy shipments to Europe and other countries participating in the new sanctions.
“We have to work with our allies to backfill where areas need help around the world,” he said.
He reiterated his call for the United States to stop buying 600,000 barrels of oil and petroleum products per day from Russia.
Asked again about Biden bringing up some of the key pieces of the reconciliation package that Manchin torpedoed in December, he said, “It doesn’t surprise me. Every time they talk, they talk about that.”
But Manchin said he’s more interested in dealing with the tax code and reversing some of the massive tax breaks for the wealthy that former President Trump and Republicans enacted in 2017, something he has said before.
“What we should do is fix the tax code. I’ve said that,” he said. “Just fix the tax code. I think that’s the one thing I think everyone agrees on.”
But Manchin said that “there’s been no formal talks” with the White House about reviving the key elements of Build Back Better.
Asked if there’s “any pieces of it” that he could see passing, Manchin said, “Not until you get your financial house in order can you do that.”
He said he remains reluctant to move forward with the biggest elements of Biden’s social spending agenda because of “the things I’ve always said.”
“I’m concerned, before we go down this path, you ought to be concerned about inflation because it’s not transitory. Back then, they were saying it was transitory,” he said, referring to predictions by the administration last year that inflation would be short-lived.
“We saw all the signs that it will not be transitory, and it’s not,” he added, arguing that his reasons for opposing Build Back Better in December have turned out to be valid.
“We knew that basically that COVID could have a resurgence, and it did with omicron. And then we were concerned about geopolitical unrest, and now we’re seeing it in the worst form it possibly can be,” he said.
“We know we’re going to have to put money now into more of the COVID relief, and I think it’s going to be quite a few billions of dollars they’re going to ask for,” he said. “We know the military is going to need quite a few billion dollars more.
“It just keeps adding up and up,” he said. “To me, it’s all about inflation.
“Inflation is the No. 1 enemy we have in America today,” he added.