Biden: We’ll Have to Break Up Build Back Better Plan

Biden: We’ll Have to Break Up Build Back Better Plan

Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

On day 365 of his administration, President Joe Biden stepped before the White House press corps on Wednesday afternoon and sought to use his first solo news conference in months to reset the political narrative of his presidency after a string of high-profile setbacks for his agenda.

“It’s been a year of challenges but it’s also been a year of enormous progress,” Biden said, touting the increase in Covid vaccinations, jobs and wages, among other accomplishments.

With dismal approval ratings driven by inflation at a four-decade high and a record-breaking surge of Covid cases, Biden sought to assure the public that he understood the frustration rippling across the nation and is working to address the crises facing the economy, from fixing strained supply chains to addressing the pandemic to reining in inflation.

Biden argued that the bipartisan infrastructure act he signed into law will boost the economy and that the Build Back Better plan now stalled in Congress would ease long-term inflation and cut costs American families face for prescription drugs and child care. “Bottom line, if price increases are what you’re worried about, the best answer is my Build Back Better plan,” Biden said.

Asked if he had overpromised Americans on what he could achieve, Biden insisted he had made enormous progress and disputed the notion that his agenda must be scaled back. He said he needs to make a stronger case to the public in defense of what he’s done and what he wants to do. He also lashed out at Republicans, acknowledging he has been unable to win their support. “I did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” he said. “What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for.”

Breaking up Build Back Better: Biden may have sought to blame Republicans, but major portions of his agenda, from the Build Back Better bill to voting rights, have been stalled by members of his own party, namely Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

The president indicated Wednesday he still thinks he can make progress on the social spending and climate package — but acknowledged that the plan would likely need to be broken into parts.

“I’m confident we can get pieces, big chunks of the Build Back Better law signed into law,” Biden said, later adding, “It’s clear to me that we’re going to have to probably break it up.”

Biden said he has been “talking to a number of my colleagues on the Hill” and, based on those conversations, he believes that Democrats would be able to get the support they need for the energy and climate provisions in the package. And he noted that Manchin strongly supports the early education programs in the package.

“I think we can break the package up, get as much as can now and come back and fight for the rest later,” Biden said.

The White House reportedly is planning to re-engage with Manchin on the legislation after the West Virginia centrist announced last month that he could not support the House version of the bill. But Biden officials want negotiations to be less public than they were last year. “One lesson we learned in the first year is, I think, the less we talk about our negotiations with specific senators and congressmen, the better we are so I’m going to say our talks with Sen. Manchin will proceed directly and privately,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told The Wall Street Journal.

The bottom line: Democrats had planned to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the Build Back Better bill by a simple majority vote in the Senate. If they break up the package and don’t use reconciliation, they would face additional obstacles to actually getting legislation passed, even as the approach forces lawmakers to publicly support or oppose elements of the package in a midterm election year.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told the Journal that Democrats should try to keep the bigger plan together to avoid those procedural hurdles. And she put the onus on Biden to get the Democratic holdouts to back a plan resembling the $1.75 trillion framework the White House released in October. “I think it’s really up to the president to get Sen. Manchin as close to the framework as possible,” she said. “The president is the only one who can really deliver that framework, he negotiated it. His credibility is on the line. We all compromised a lot to get to that framework.”

The most likely result may be a slimmed-down reconciliation package that leaves aside the portions of the package that can’t get 50 votes.