President Joe Biden didn’t use the phrase “Build Back Better” in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, further proof that name is dead and buried even as the president sought to revive elements of the bill under slightly different branding. Biden touted many of the policies in the failed plan, calling on Congress to pass clean energy tax credits, reduce the cost of child care and cut the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with drugmakers and capping the cost of insulin.
“Economists call it increasing the productive capacity of our economy. I call it building a better America,” Biden said. “My plan to fight inflation will lower your costs and lower the deficit.”
It didn’t take long for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to suck some of the air out of that effort.
Manchin effectively killed the House-passed version of the plan by announcing in December that he couldn’t support it, and Biden’s reframing sought to win Manchin’s support by addressing inflation and the deficit, concerns that Manchin has repeatedly raised in objecting to the proposed new spending programs. Manchin wasn’t moved. “Nothing’s changed,” he told reporters after the speech, during which he sat on the Republican side of the aisle — a gesture that his office reportedly said was meant to serve as a reminder that bipartisanship is still alive in the Senate.
Asked if he was surprised Biden had tried to use the speech to revive his domestic agenda, Manchin reportedly joked, “They just can’t help themselves.” And he again cast doubt on Biden’s claims that the plan would fight inflation. “I’ve never found out that you can lower costs by spending more,” he said.
Manchin lays out a scaled-back plan: The senator told reporters on Wednesday that he could vote for a reconciliation package focused on tax reform and lowering prescription drug costs — if half of the revenue raised is used to reduce the deficit and fight inflation and the other half is used to fully pay for programs to combat climate change, or whatever idea Democrats can rally around.
“The one thing that we as Democrats all agreed on was the 2017 tax cuts were weighted unfairly,” Manchin told reporters, according to The Hill. “So if you want to fix the tax cuts and make everyone pay their fair share, whether it’s the very wealthiest or the corporations that pay nothing — I think the president identified that last night — then you have to fix the tax code.”
The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports that Manchin made clear he hasn’t offered a formal counterproposal to the White House but was just outlining the elements of a package that he and Senate Democrats could back.
Why it matters: “It may be Democrats’ best and last chance to get at least some of their biggest domestic priorities done before the midterm elections, but would require everyone in the party — particularly liberals — to concede that what’s possible doesn’t come close to the $1.7 trillion package Manchin spurned in December,” Politico’s Burgess Everett and Nicholas Wu say.