Democrats’ New Plan for Build Back Better: Wait ‘Til Next Year

Democrats’ New Plan for Build Back Better: Wait ‘Til Next Year

Reuters/Elizabeth Frantz

President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are adopting the mantra of many a losing sports team: Wait ‘til next year.

Acknowledging the increasingly obvious, Senate Democrats are giving up on their push to pass a roughly $2 trillion package of health care, education, climate and tax plans by the end of the year, according to reports.

Party leaders had aimed to pass the legislation before heading home for the holidays, but their drive faced multiple obstacles — most prominently, the continued objections of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to the structure of the legislation and much of its content. But the legislative text of the package and a review of key provisions by the Senate parliamentarian have yet to be completed as well, further complicating efforts to quickly bring the bill to a vote.

Manchin has criticized what he and other fiscal hawks see as budget gimmicks in the bill, which makes some programs temporary in order to bring down the official cost of the overall package. But his demand that measures in the bill be funded for 10 years and his insistence that the total spending not exceed $1.75 trillion mean that some key Democratic priorities — like an extension of the party’s expanded child tax credit, which on its own would cost about $1.6 trillion— could be squeezed out of the bill.

Why it matters, part 1: The year-end deadline to pass the package was an artificial, self-imposed one — and it’s just the latest in a string of such deadlines that Democrats have blown during a months-long struggle to finalize a crucial plank of their economic agenda.

The latest delay has renewed frustrations and among members of the party and risks dissipating any momentum the legislation may have had after the House narrowly passed its version of the bill last month. “We missed an opportunity,” Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) told reporters Thursday, adding that he was “frustrated and disappointed” but not giving up.

House progressives, with some exceptions, had agreed to enact a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, a priority for party centrists, under the premise, or promise, that Biden would deliver the votes needed for the larger social spending and climate plan to get through the Senate. But Biden’s talks with Manchin have failed to win over the West Virginia senator, again bringing Democratic divisions to the fore — and, in some ways, rewinding the intraparty debate over the bill back to where it was months ago.

“Some Democrats said that they are far from a resolution on a now-familiar dispute: whether to seize on their rare, narrow and potent majorities afforded them in the last election to pursue aggressive, expensive economic reforms — or reel in their ambitions to assuage the fiscal conservatism of Sen. Joe Manchin III,” The Washington Post’s Tony Romm reports.

That all leaves Biden’s agenda — and Democrats’ 2022 election campaign platform — in serious doubt. Republicans, meanwhile, are rejoicing over Democrats’ inability to come together. “The best Christmas gift Washington could give working families would be putting this bad bill on ice,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Why it matters, part 2: More practically, the delay increases the likelihood that Democrats’ expanded child tax credit, which has been providing monthly payments to some 35 million families since July, could expire at the end of the year. The Internal Revenue Service had advised lawmakers that they would need to extend the credit by December 28 to ensure that the January payments could go out in time.

“The delay matters,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said, according to Bloomberg News. “If we do it in the first weeks of January it makes it a little more challenging for the secretary of the Treasury to get the checks out by Jan. 15.” But Brown added, “it’s going to all happen.”

If it does, it will now have to be in 2022.