It wasn't a great way to wake up this morning.
With sleepy eyes, I picked up my iPhone to see what was new with the world, only to be met with a red banner notification from the New York Times saying that Senator Joe Manchin was a no on the Build Back Better bill.
Wow. Not totally unexpected, but since President Biden had been having frequent talks with Manchin recently, I figured they were working out details of what it would take for Manchin to support the bill.
Instead, Manchin went on Fox News to make his announcement. I guess he was smart enough to realize that MSNBC or CNN anchors would ask some tough questions, while Fox News wouldn't -- since anything that hurts Biden and the Democrats gets a big thumbs-up from Fox.
The White House clearly was deeply pissed-off with Manchin. A statement from the Press Secretary didn't mince words about how they felt betrayed by the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia.
Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances. Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced. Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework “in good faith.”
...Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.
In the meantime, Senator Manchin will have to explain to those families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that, instead of $35 for that vital medicine. He will have to explain to the nearly two million women who would get the affordable day care they need to return to work why he opposes a plan to get them the help they need. Maybe Senator Manchin can explain to the millions of children who have been lifted out of poverty, in part due to the Child Tax Credit, why he wants to end a program that is helping achieve this milestone—we cannot.
Now that Manchin has gone back on his word, this puts Biden in a tough position. His approval rating already was tanking. Even though the Build Back Better bill isn't dead, it's on life support. And this bill includes many of Biden's campaign promises.
Progressives in Congress, along with regular progressives like me, are going to find it hard to forget that Biden assured the Congressional Progressive Caucus (almost all of whom are House members) that it was OK to decouple the bipartisan infrastructure bill from Build Back Better, since supposedly Manchin had agreed to support the BBB framework and Biden said it would get all 50 Democratic votes in the Senate.
So House progressives agreed to vote in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which had already passed in the Senate, rather than hold it hostage until Build Back Better had been approved by the Senate.
Today Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Progressive Caucus, said that she didn't regret decoupling the bills, even though the fear of many progressives has come true -- that once the bipartisan infrastructure bill backed by Manchin had become law, this took away leverage needed to get his vote for Build Back Better.
Of course, it might be that Manchin would have walked away from both bills if more pressure had been put on him. However, I agree with a Washington Post opinion piece, "Manchin's rebuff of Build Back Better is the latest failure of Democrats playing soft."
President Biden & Co. could have kept infrastructure and social spending in one bill, but they wrongly believed the aura of bipartisanship and “good faith” would better persuade conservative Democrats such as Manchin.
Similarly, under President Barack Obama, Democrats trimmed the desperately needed stimulus in fruitless pursuit of Republican votes, wasted months trying to find Republican backing for the Affordable Care Act and failed to fill numerous judgeships because they waited too long to weaken the Senate filibuster.
On the other side, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) refusal to consider Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court was brazenly hypocritical and partisan. Not everyone in his caucus supported it. But McConnell ignored the calls for comity, and now the Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority.
Perhaps the votes were never there for a mammoth infrastructure/health-care/climate/child-care bill. Perhaps a 50-50 Senate was always too narrow a margin to overcome. But from the moment Biden introduced his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan in the spring, it was clear his economic agenda’s best chance for survival was to keep everything in one bill.
Either that package would get the votes it needed, or the White House could pivot quickly to something less ambitious but passable, instead of wasting months on useless cajoling. Now, because Democrats played soft yet again, a tough midterm year gets even tougher, and millions of Americans won’t get the help they need.
Well, there's still a chance Build Back Better can be brought off life support and become law. Manchin is irked that the plan has provisions, like the child tax credit, which expire before the 10-year budgeting period is up.
Manchin views this as a gimmick, which it is. But it's a gimmick used by Republicans also, and the Democrats are being more honest about what they're up to than the GOP has been.
Still, there's a possibility Manchin could be enticed to vote for a fully-paid-for bill that includes just a few policy areas in a $1.5 trillion or so price tag. Today our Oregon Senator Ron Wyden issued a statement along that line.
Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today released the following statement on the path forward for the Build Back Better agenda:
“It’s extremely disappointing to have to drop any major priorities because of Republican obstruction and the constraints of legislating in a fifty-fifty Senate, however, Democrats have made key promises to families who need more support. Failure is not an option here.
“A package that addresses critical priorities over the long-term, like providing financial security for families, lowering the costs of health care and prescription drugs for seniors, and creating clean energy jobs by combating the climate crisis would go a long way toward addressing our challenges. The Finance Committee has put forward a revenue menu with more than enough options to permanently pay for these priorities.
“Families received their sixth child tax credit payment last week, and they have come to depend on these payments to cover the essentials like rent, groceries, heat, and clothing for their children. Food insecurity among families dropped by about 25 percent since these payments began. Child poverty has been cut nearly in half. This program is Social Security for our children, and Democrats must keep it going over the long-term.
“This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. The linchpin of the clean energy package is permanent, technology-neutral incentives tied to carbon emissions reductions. Fossil fuels that get cleaner are eligible for incentives, just like solar or wind. This package is supported by utility companies and environmental advocates alike and it’s the only path forward that can secure 50 votes and achieve significant emissions reductions in the power sector. Senator Manchin has long said he would only support technology-neutral incentives, and that’s exactly what this package is structured around.
“Democrats also must deliver on our promise to lower Americans’ health care costs, which are crushing to family budgets. Drug companies have been mugging Americans at the pharmacy window for too long, and there may not be another opportunity anytime soon for Democrats to put a stop to it. Fifty million seniors in Medicare have a lot of bargaining power, and it’s long past due to put it to use. Earlier this year Democrats also expanded the Affordable Care Act’s tax credits for health coverage, and it’s vital that we extend those subsidies to make coverage affordable. At a time when many American families are concerned about basic costs of living going up, Democrats cannot allow their health care costs to increase unnecessarily.”