Manchin: Dems Have to Start ‘From Scratch’ on Spending Bill

Manchin: Dems Have to Start ‘From Scratch’ on Spending Bill

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, January 20, 2022
Happy Thursday! Here's the latest as the Biden administration starts year two.

Pelosi: We Need to Downsize Build Back Better

Echoing President Joe Biden’s suggestion at a press conference Wednesday that Democrats’ Build Back Better bill may need to be reduced in size and scope if it’s going to have any hope of moving forward, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday that in her view the spending plan needs to be slimmed down and perhaps even renamed.

While quibbling with Biden’s assessment that the bill may need to be broken into “big chunks” that can pass separately, Pelosi agreed that the effort needs to be smaller overall. “So what the president calls ‘chunks’ I would hope would be a major bill going forward,” Pelosi told reporters. “It may be more limited, but it is still significant.”

Pelosi said the idea that the bill can be broken down and passed piece by piece doesn’t make sense, since Democrats still have limited options for passing legislation in a closely divided Congress. “This is a reconciliation bill,” she said, referring to the legislative vehicle that would allow Democrats to evade a filibuster in the Senate. “So when people say, ‘let's divide it up,’ they don't understand the process.”

Manchin says Dems have to start ‘from scratch’: Many Democrats believe the only way forward is to craft a bill that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is willing to accept. But trimming the existing bill may be a more difficult process than it first appears.

Manchin has indicated that the roughly $1.8 trillion package he offered to the White House last month is no longer on the table, and on Thursday he said Democrats would need to start “from scratch” rather than revise the existing bill. “We're going to start with a clean sheet of paper and start over,” Manchin said, noting that no talks are currently scheduled on the issue. “If anybody wants to talk, I'll always talk,” he added. Asked what comes next, he said, “I can't tell you.”

Manchin also made it clear that he is still worried about the effect the Democratic spending plan could have on the inflationary pressure still surging through the economy. “The main thing we need to do is take care of the inflation,” he told reporters. “Get your financial house in order. Get a tax code that works. We can do a lot of good things. ... But get your financial house in order. Get this inflation down. Get COVID out of the way and then we'll be rolling.”

A focus on the environment: Some Democrats want to move ahead with the climate-related elements of the Build Back Better bill, spurred by fears that Republicans may retake Congress in the fall midterm elections as well as Manchin’s comments that he might back some of the provisions, The New York Times’ Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman report.

At his press conference, Biden called out the environment as one area where he thought a bill could pass. “I’ve been talking to a number of my colleagues on the Hill,” he said. “I think it’s clear that we would be able to get support for the $500 billion plus for energy and the environment.”

Build Back Better includes roughly $550 billion to help move the American economy away from its reliance on fossil fuels, with tax credits for energy producers doing much of the work.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) offered his support for that approach. “I think the climate piece offers a path forward,” he said Thursday.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) agreed. “We don’t have another 10 years to wait,” he said. “We should take what Joe Manchin said, take the climate and clean-energy provisions in the package that have been largely worked through and financed, and take any other provisions in any other part of Build Back Better that have the votes, and put them together as a package.”

The social programs left out of the bill — likely including the more generous child tax credit that is important to Biden and many progressive lawmakers — would have to be addressed later. “[T]hat becomes the agenda that we run on in 2022 and 2024,” Markey said.

Budget deal could be a problem: As if the Build Back Better bill wasn’t complicated enough, Democrats may also have to worry about how the effort to pass it affects the bipartisan negotiations over a budget package for the current fiscal year.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told The Wall Street Journal that the administration wants to restart negotiations and pass some version of the Build Back Better plan as soon as possible, but one senior Republican warned that a renewed effort now could make it difficult if not impossible to pass an omnibus budget bill for 2022, forcing lawmakers to rely on a continuing resolution that maintains funding at current levels.

“It probably does because that would be the order of business,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Punchbowl News. “It takes the oxygen out of the air. As I said, we gonna have a long winter ahead. I would like to get regular order, get these bills passed. If we don’t, we’re heading to a [continuing resolution]. For the year probably.”

A short-term budget deal expires on February 18, and if Shelby is correct, Democrats may have to choose between coming to an agreement on a comprehensive budget deal with Republicans and working out a new version of the Build Back Better plan among themselves, at least for the next few weeks.

The bottom line: Biden’s Build Back Better plan remains stalled, with Manchin sitting in the driver’s seat. The attention now turns to a slimmed-down version of the bill, but crafting a piece of legislation that can please both progressive and conservative Democrats — and does not interfere with negotiations over a budget package — will be a challenge, like everything else with this bill.

What Are Republicans For? House GOP Consults Newt Gingrich as It Readies an Answer

President Biden sent a clear signal at his press conference Wednesday that he and his fellow Democrats will spend much of the midterm election campaign hammering Republicans for their nearly universal opposition to “making things better in this country.”

Biden, who ran on what many in his own party saw as a naive promise of greater bipartisanship, told reporters that he had underestimated the GOP’s dedication to obstructionism: “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. Think about this: What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for.”

The midterm elections may be more likely to play out as a referendum on Biden’s presidency and the state of the economy and the Covid pandemic, but Republicans are certainly going to be pressed to answer those questions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) punted Wednesday when asked what the GOP agenda would be if the party wins control of Congress this year. “That’s a very good question,” he said. “And I’ll let you know when we take it back.”

But The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Laura Meckler report that House Republicans led by Rep. Kevin McCarty of California are working on an answer of their own in the form of a list of policy pledges — and they’re consulting with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the architect of the GOP’s 1994 “Contract with America” and the party’s sweeping midterm election wins that flipped both the House and Senate that year:

“Republicans are expected to focus their new platform on education policies aimed at tapping into parental discontent; countering the rise of China with new economic measures; and ‘oversight’ of the Biden administration. They are also looking at invoking other traditional GOP goals such as cutting taxes, restricting immigration, criticizing Silicon Valley and repealing environmental rules. … But questions abound about the seriousness of that effort and whether the Republican policy platforms will amount to much more than a messaging effort.

Gingrich told the Post that he hopes the GOP will include a balanced budget amendment in its election platform, which would require steep cuts in federal spending. And — of course — the party of tax cuts will reportedly also push back on Biden’s tax proposals, including the global minimum corporate tax and a 15% minimum tax on large corporations.

The bottom line: Any GOP blueprint would face challenges, both political and practical, meaning that Republicans may not have much incentive to spell out detailed policy prescriptions. And many of the nation’s challenges — like inflation — defy politically popular quick fixes. “There is nothing that messages well, significantly reduces inflation and is painless,” Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and former aide to Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). “It’s easier to criticize inflation than to map out an actual solution going forward, and that’s the box Republicans are currently in.”

Republican Lawmakers Tout Infrastructure Funding They Voted Against

Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) on Wednesday touted the news that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would spend $829 million in federal funding to upgrade locks and dams in her home state. The money will be provided as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, and Hinson said in a statement that “this landmark investment will be game-changing for Iowans and communities along the Mississippi River like Dubuque.”

But Hinson had voted against the infrastructure bill last year, calling it “the biggest leap toward socialism this nation has ever seen” and complaining that it included too much money “for items aside from the physical infrastructure Iowans care most about, without fully paying for them.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) hit back at Hinson for hypocrisy. “Tell the truth @RepAshleyHinson — you didn’t vote for this bill,” Swalwell tweeted. “You voted for a dam collapse. If you had your way your neighbors would be underwater. Thankfully, @HouseDemocrats passed this bill and we did your dam job. Give me a break.”

In a statement to The Hill, a Hinson spokesperson said the congresswoman had opposed the infrastructure package because “it was tied to trillions in other spending,” but that once the bill had passed she worked to direct funding to projects in her region. “I’ll always fight to ensure Iowans’ taxpayer dollars are reinvested at home in Iowa,” Hinson said in her statement Wednesday announcing the project funding.

The Washington Post notes that Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, also issued a statement Wednesday celebrating an announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it would spend $403 million for a flood control project in her state — money that was allocated as part of the infrastructure bill, which she voted against and called a “socialist plan full of crushing taxes and radical spending.”

The bottom line: As MSNBC’s Steve Benen notes, “it's not uncommon for lawmakers, especially when dealing with a massive, multifaceted piece of legislation, to like some elements of a bill while opposing the larger whole (or conversely, oppose some provisions while endorsing the larger whole).” But in this case, Benen says, many Republicans “condemned the infrastructure bill in no uncertain terms, before launching an offensive against the modest number of GOP lawmakers who dared to make it bipartisan by voting for it.” When the same people who decried the bill as radical socialism look to get credit for the parts that benefit their constituents, they “shouldn't be surprised when they get called out for their brazenness.”

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