Manchin Could Derail Dems’ Christmas Dreams

Manchin Could Derail Dems’ Christmas Dreams

Graeme Sloan/SIPA USA

It’s Joe Time. That’s Joe as in Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is once again the center of attention on Capitol Hill as Democrats hope to pass their Build Back Better plan of social and climate programs before Christmas. Manchin’s continued objections to the plan, which he raised again on Monday ahead of a planned conversation about the legislation with President Joe Biden, likely mean it’s not yet go time for Democrats.

"We have basically 49 of us in agreement to move forward. So we have one colleague we're continuing to work with, and he's been successful at making a number of changes. And so hopefully he'll be joining us," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), according to NBC News.

Manchin on Monday didn’t close the door on passing the bill this month, but he suggested that Congress can improve the legislation and raised a slew of concerns about its content and possible effects. Manchin said he’s increasingly worried about fueling inflation and raising the national debt, adding that lawmakers should also consider the potential need for resources to counter Russia and China.

“Inflation is real,” Manchin told reporters. “It’s not transitory. It’s alarming. It’s going up, not down. And I think we should be more concerned about geopolitical fallout.” A government report last week showed inflation reached a 39-year high in November.

Manchin also said he’s worried about the way Democrats have structured the bill, lowering costs by making some programs temporary. Manchin said that “whatever Congress is considering doing we should do it within the limits of what we can afford. … Whatever we raise, I want to ensure there’s money going towards paying down debt, we have to start taking care of our debt and be responsible.”

Republicans and budget hawks have been hammering what they decry as budget gimmicks used in the bill, and the Congressional Budget Office last week said in an analysis requested by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that making temporary programs in the package permanent would add $3 trillion to deficits if lawmakers don’t also raise new revenue. The White House and top Democrats have called that CBO report a “fake score” since it doesn’t reflect the legislation as written, and they insist that any extension of sunsetting programs would be fully financed and won’t add to the debt. Manchin, however, called the CBO’s latest analysis “very sobering."

Machin said he’d be talking with Biden later in the afternoon or evening. “We’re going to talk about exactly what happened on Friday with the CBO score and inflation reports and things of that sort,” he said.

After the conversation, he told reporters that the two talked about “different iterations” of the bill.

Biden and Machin reportedly also spoke last week, with the president telling the West Virginia senator he needs his vote. “But Manchin conveyed to the President that he was not there yet and expressed deep concerns about the size and scope of the legislation,” CNN reports. Ahead of their expected call on Monday, Biden declined to lay out what he would tell Manchin this time, but he told reporters that his general approach when speaking to lawmakers is to “convince them that what I’m proposing makes sense and it’s not inconsistent with what they believe.”

Manchin up until now has resisted that message.

Changes coming: As the Senate works on changes to the House version of the bill, a provision guaranteeing four weeks of paid family and medical leave is reportedly likely to be cut because Manchin opposes it. Democrats also have to decide how to modify the House’s $80,000 cap on the deductibility of state and local taxes. They’re reportedly looking at changing their 15% corporate minimum tax to ensure it doesn’t undercut tax incentives elsewhere in the bill. And a tax on nicotine and vaping products will reportedly be cut due to opposition from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and others who say it’s regressive.

The expanded monthly child tax credit of $250 to $300 per child enacted in March as part of the American Rescue Plan is set to end this month unless lawmakers extend it. The Democratic bill would keep the payments going for one more year.

What’s next: Democrats have less than two weeks to meet their Christmas deadline, and several important aspects of the bill are still being negotiated and the Senate parliamentarian is still reviewing some parts of the package. Lawmakers also have to lift the debt ceiling, which they plan to do this week, and pass the annual defense policy bill. That all means Democrats don’t have much time to reach agreement on some contentious issues and ensure they can get the 50 votes they need in the Senate.

The bottom line: Some Senate Democrats reportedly expect the bill will be delayed until next year. “Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer privately acknowledges passing the bill before January is a very ambitious goal,” one senior Senate aide told Axios. A more realistic timeframe may be early February, ahead of Biden’s first State of the Union address.