Manchin Fires Back as Dems Accuse Him of 'Betrayal'

Manchin Fires Back as Dems Accuse Him of 'Betrayal'

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is interviewed by David Rubenstein
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Monday, December 20, 2021
Happy Monday! We had kinda been worried that with Congress out, this week would leave us little to cover. Guess Joe Manchin and Omicron made sure that wouldn't happen.

Did Manchin Really Kill Biden's Big Bill?

So what now?

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) stunned and infuriated the White House and fellow Democrats Sunday by announcing in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” that he’s a “no” on the president’s Build Back Better plan.

Democratic leaders spent months negotiating with Manchin, confident that could address his many concerns and win his vote, a must if they were going to pass their massive package of health care reforms, social spending, climate programs and tax changes. “If he were going to say no, he would have said no by now,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DL), a close White House ally, said just last week.

Then Manchin said no.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin told Fox’s Bret Baier. "This is a no on this piece of legislation.”

Here’s a look at the shockwaves Manchin’s announcement sent through Washington and what may come next as President Joe Biden and Democrats scramble to salvage their agenda.

A deteriorating relationship: The White House was rocked by Manchin’s bombshell, even as the senator had long made clear he had serious reservations about almost every element of the legislation and had said he would be fine if Democrats did nothing on Biden’s spending plan.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded Sunday to Manchin’s announcement by releasing a lengthy, scorching statement — that Biden himself reportedly approved — accusing the senator of going back on his word: “Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances. Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced. Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework ‘in good faith.’”

Psaki added that Manchin had given Biden his own written outline for the Build Back Better bill just days earlier. “While that framework was missing key priorities, we believed it could lead to a compromise acceptable to all,” Psaki said. “Senator Manchin promised to continue conversations in the days ahead, and to work with us to reach that common ground. If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”

Manchin’s off on the economics: Psaki’s statement also hit back on concerns Manchin had raised that the legislation would fuel inflation and add to the national debt. She again argued that the bill would ease long-term price pressures. And while Manchin and other fiscal conservatives have decried the use of budget gimmicks to lower the official cost of the bill, Psaki said that it “is the most fiscally responsible major bill that Congress has considered in years, and reduces the deficit in the long run.

Jim Tankersley of The New York Times reports that economists by and large back the White House on the inflation question. “Economic evidence strongly suggests Mr. Manchin is wrong. A host of economists and independent analyses have concluded that the bill is not economic stimulus, and that it will not pump enough money into consumer pocketbooks next year to raise prices more than a modest amount.

Economic growth could take a hit: Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius said Manchin’s rejection of the Build Back Better package will likely mean lower GDP growth next year. “BBB enactment had already looked like a close call and in light of Manchin’s comments we are adjusting our forecast to remove the assumption that BBB will become law,” Hatzius said in a note to clients. Goldman lowered its projection for GDP growth from 3% to 2% in the first quarter of 2022, from 3.5% to 3.0% in the second quarter, and from 3% to 2.75% in the third quarter.

Hatzius also said he expects inflation to continue to be an issue, which could affect the fate of the bill next year. “With headline CPI reaching as high as 7% in the next few months in our forecast before it begins to fall, the inflation concerns that Sen. Manchin and others have already expressed are likely to persist, making passage more difficult,” the firm also noted.

Progressives say ‘I told you so:’ Saying that the people of Manchin’s home state of West Virginia would “directly benefit from childcare, pre-Medicare expansion, and long term care” included in the legislative package, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-NY) accused Democrats of pursuing a flawed strategy on the bill. “This is exactly what we warned would happen if we separated Build Back Better from infrastructure,” Omar tweeted.

Fellow progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said she was not surprised by Manchin’s comments. “People can be mad at Manchin all they want, but we knew he would do this months ago,” she tweeted. Ocasio-Cortez blamed the leaders of the Democratic party for situation. “*They* chose to move BIF alone instead of w/ BBB, not Manchin,” she said, referring to the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills. “So they need to fix it.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) charged that Manchin had “betrayed” the president. “Either the president did not have a commitment or the senator made a commitment and went back. And I believe the president when he says he had a commitment,” Jayapal said Monday. There are still questions, however, about what kind of commitment Manchin did or did not make to the White House.

Manchin defiant: Some on Capitol Hill questioned the tone of the White House response, and in an interview Monday with a West Virginia radio station, Manchin hit back, slamming Biden’s staff.

"They figured surely to God we can move one person. We surely can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough that they'll just say, 'OK I'll vote for anything,'" he said. "Well, guess what? I'm from West Virginia. I'm not from where they're from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they'll be submissive."

Manchin indicated that White House staff had angered him during negotiations, leading to his announcement: “I understand it's staff. It is not the president. This is staff. And they drove some things, and they put some things out, that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is."

Can Build Back Better be built back better? The White House and other Democrats still hope that they can bring their bill back from the dead. “Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better,” Psaki said in her statement, “we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.” She told reporters Monday that “what's most on the president's mind is the risk of inaction."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) vowed Monday to bring the legislation up for a vote despite Manchin’s announcement, adding an obvious shot at his fellow Democrat. “Senators should be aware that the Senate will, in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act, very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television,” Schumer wrote in a letter to colleagues. “We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act – and we will keep voting on it until we get something done.”

Schumer added that the Senate would also take up voting rights legislation and that Democrats would consider changes to the filibuster rules if Republicans continue to clock that bill.

While the intraparty sniping since Sunday morning doesn’t bode well for any chance of resurrecting the legislation, Manchin on Monday left the door open to a new version of the bill.

The Washington Post reports that Manchin’s offer last week was for a $1.8 trillion package that included universal prekindergarten, an expansion of Obamacare and funding for climate change programs — but excluded an extension of Biden’s expanded child tax credit. (“In recent months, Manchin has told several of his fellow Democrats that he thought parents would waste monthly child tax credit payments on drugs instead of providing for their children,” HuffPost reported Monday, citing two sources familiar with the senator’s comments.)

In his interview, Manchin reportedly again criticized the artificial sunsets for programs that Democrats used to hold down the official cost of their package and said he had only agreed to press ahead with Democrats’ budget reconciliation bill because wanted a plan that rolled back the 2017 Republican tax cuts. He added that he wants to lower the cost of more prescription drugs than the House version of the bill covers. “If you’re going to negotiate then negotiate,” he said. “Don’t start picking and choosing and playing games.”

Manchin also called for means testing and work requirements for benefits such as the expanded child tax credit. And he would want committee hearings about the legislation.

Those demands may be impossible to square with those of other Democrats. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), for example, had opposed raising marginal tax rates and broader plans to lower prescription drug prices.

The bottom line: Manchin and Biden reportedly had a cordial conversation Sunday night, and party leaders aren’t giving up on the bill. Democrats could still try to salvage a scaled-back version in a reconciliation package. Senate Democrats are set to hold a virtual meeting Tuesday evening, which could help clarify the party’s path forward. No matter what, lawmakers will likely be dealing with the Build Back Better bill — or at least specific parts of it — for weeks or months to come.

Send your feedback to please tell your friends they can sign up here for their own copy of this newsletter.


Views and Analysis