President Joe Biden meets with Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Tuesday, September 28, 2021, in the Oval Office. Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz on Flickr

Sen. Manchin, the Grinch who might steal Biden’s Christmas

Senator Schumer wanted quick passage before Christmas, but looks like it ain’t going to happen.

Despite Senate Democrats spending weeks altering the Build Back Better Act to win the vote of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the Senator announced  in an interview with Fox News Sunday that he will not support it.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” said Sen. Manchin in a decision that can crush President Joe Biden’s major bill designed to center U.S. post-pandemic recovery. “I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. This is a no on this legislation.”

The bill is a mix of social programs and environmental protections. Manchin, along with Senate Republicans, claim that at $1.75 trillion (some put the figure at $2 trillion),  the measure would cost too much to implement. Because the Democrats are a slim majority in the Senate, all 48 of them, including the two independents who caucus with the Democrats, would have to vote as one to pass any bills about which a majority of Republicans object. 

“The situation points out that a 50-50 Senate is really problematic,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) recently shared with reporters, expressing what many of her colleagues feel. “I’ve used the word sucks. It definitely enables one or two people to hold things up, so yes, I’m frustrated.”

With a majority Democrat vote, the House passed the Build Back Better Act on November 19. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he wanted the Senate to pass the Act before Christmas. Now it looks like Santa Claus will not deliver. Senators opposing the measure, including Sen. Manchin, said the Build Back Better Act will add to inflation and the burgeoning national budget deficit. In this redux of a holiday narrative, Sen. Manchin is the Grinch who stole Christmas for the Biden Administration, but to the GOP, he is Tiny Tim who becomes the hero in a winter novella.

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Manchin’s rejection of the Act was sudden. President Biden had met with Manchin for weeks, said Psaki. The ongoing communication led the POTUS to believe that  he and Manchin were close to an agreement.

“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 decision yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word,” Psaki said. 

President Biden issued a statement indicating that the Christmas deadline for the bill’s passage in the Senate would be missed. The Commander-in-Chief wrote that continuing negotiations with Sen. Manchin—who wants to reduce funding for the bill and remove some of its programs created to help families—were part of the holdup.  To push forward, he pledged that Democrats will work through the holidays on the bill.

“It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote,” Biden explained. “We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead; Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible.”

The fiscal-centric legislature  seeks to “build back” the U.S. economy as it emerges from last year’s nationwide shutdowns and quarantines. Many state and local governments put restrictions of movement in place to protect Americans from catching and spreading COVID-19. But such protections unintentionally resulted in massive losses of jobs and businesses. Despite these protections, the virus killed more than 700 million Americans.

The details of family-first in the Act

In addition to resolving the economic problems caused by COVID-19, the Build Back Better Act aims to strengthen working and middle class Americans through programs which would reportedly make portions of their lives easier. Among other things, the Act would fund one month of paid family leave or subsidized child care.The Act provides $700 billion for such assistance to families. Individuals would no longer have to take unpaid time off from work, or risk being fired because of too many absences.

If it becomes law, it would provide $3,600 per year in child tax credits. 

Sen. Manchin’s decision shows he is out of step with his constituents regarding opposing extending child tax credit.  According to a survey of West Virginia parents conducted in September by Parents Together Action, a national organization advocating for parents, 86 percent said the child tax credit checks made a huge difference for their families. 

There are other provisions that would assist families. The bill would fund the construction of affordable housing. It would expand the Affordable Care Act to cover the high cost of hearing aids, an expense currently paid out-of-pocket.

Economic boosts through environmental protections       

There are funds for developing  solar and wind power as alternative energy sources to oil or coal. In another White House statement, Biden said the Act’s climate change provisions “make the most significant investment ever by creating jobs that build a clean energy future.  .  .  .”

It was reported that Sen. Manchin is against the child tax credits because they could add to the deficit. Though he said that was untrue,  The Hill newspaper reported that Manchin believes the Act doesn’t reflect the cost of extending the child tax credit for one year or more.   

National deficit versus tax revenue

Republicans have generally challenged the costs of all Democratic-supported programs, claiming they are too expensive. A few hours before the House vote in November, the Congressional Budget Office issued its cost analysis of the legislation. According to the report, the Act would increase the deficit by $367 billion in 10 years. But it would also create a $127 billion increase in tax revenue.

The deficit issue is temporarily resolved, as the House and the Senate recently voted to raise the debt limit by $2.5 trillion. Sen.  Schumer said the issue won’t come before Congress again until 2023. President Biden signed the bill into law on December 16.

Meanwhile, Democrats expressed  outrage that a member of their own party is against the Build Back Better Act and plans to vote against it.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is one of the two Independents who vote with the Democrats, told CNN’s “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper that he had thought Manchin could be persuaded to support the Act. “We’ve been dealing with Mr. Manchin for month after month after month,” Sanders said.”But if he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote ‘No’ in front of the whole world.”

During this legislative impasse, Sen. McConnell expressed support for holding off a vote on the Act. “The best Christmas gift Washington could give to working families would be putting this bad bill on ice.”

 

Margaret Summers has worked as a print and radio news reporter and a media relations professional. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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