President Biden earlier this week again pitched his Build Back Better agenda, telling a gathering of the National Association of Counties that his plan would help middle-class families “getting clobbered by the cost of everyday things” by capping child-care expenses and cutting the cost of prescription drugs. In a tweet Thursday, the president again touted that 17 Nobel Prize winners in economics have said the plan will ease inflationary pressures. “We can get this done,” Biden said.
But as The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report, “it’s not clear such a plan exists anymore, at least in any recognizable form.” Talks between the White House and key lawmakers about the plan “have virtually evaporated,” they report, even as “Biden sometimes makes it sound as though Build Back Better is on the cusp of passage.”
In reality, the plan is still clouded by questions about what any new version might look like: “It’s far from evident what, if any, version of Biden’s once-sweeping proposal could pass this year and what it would include,” Sullivan and Kim say. “Would it be a climate plan? A prescription drug initiative? A health-care bill?”
The plan, and any potential answers to those questions, hardly came up during a Senate Democratic lunch Thursday attended by White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, further evidence that the legislation remains stalled and has been shifted to the back burner. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), whose objections to the House version of the Build Back Better Act effectively iced it, said this week that “there have been no formal talks for quite a while.”
The Democrats at Thursday’s lunch reportedly focused instead on broad steps to cut costs in the economy, like a temporary gas tax holiday. Others in the party have pushed narrower efforts to lower the price of insulin and other prescription drugs.
The outlook for a new plan: Lawmakers’ attention has shifted to other priorities, but Democrats haven’t ditched Biden’s agenda.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement to the Post that “the president and his team are working hard with a wide range of lawmakers on cutting costs for American families, including with regard to prescription drugs and energy.” He also emphasized that the plan would “reduce the deficit.”
Punchbowl News notes that, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others are still working to reach some compromise with Manchin, the acknowledgment that Build Back Better is stalled helped Democrats and Republicans reach a deal on topline government funding levels for the full year and make progress toward an omnibus spending bill. “Democrats’ push to pass BBB had been the biggest impediment to such a bipartisan agreement,” Punchbowl says. “House and Senate appropriators are now rushing to put together an omnibus spending package by the new government funding deadline of March 11. That package will include billions of dollars in earmarks for lawmakers in both chambers, an added bonus heading into November.”
The bottom line: Talk about elements of the Build Back Better plan is likely to ramp up again in coming weeks. The Post notes that a number of Senate committees are tentatively planning hearings about potential parts of a revised spending package, taking some steps to appease Manchin, who has insisted that any new plan go through the regular legislative process.