Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters on Feb. 1 that the Build Back Better Act (BBB), President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar social spending package, “is dead,” dashing any lingering hopes among Democrats that Manchin will rally behind a further scaled-down version.
Manchin’s opposition to BBB has been well-known and oft-repeated for months, and his opposition to the package led to one price cut after another. In December 2021, Manchin finally gave up on the project, saying that he wouldn’t vote for even a smaller package put forward by his party.
The West Virginia Democrat linked his opposition to the bill with inflation, which has risen at a breakneck pace despite frantic efforts by the White House and the Federal Reserve to bring it under control.
In the original draft of the BBB authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the legislation would have cost the U.S. government around $6 trillion. However, presaging the trouble the bill would encounter, the price tag was almost immediately slashed to $3.5 trillion before coming to a floor vote in either the House or Senate.
While Sanders and other progressives considered that a substantial compromise, for Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the proposal was still far too pricey.
After weeks of negotiations with the pair, the Biden White House unveiled a $1.85 trillion draft of the bill. Sinema remained mum on the updated draft, citing her opposition to “[negotiating] through the press.” Manchin, far more vocal than Sinema, remained skeptical of the bill until December 2021, when he announced that he wouldn’t vote for it.
Despite Manchin’s wholesale opposition, several Senate Democrats continued to work behind the scenes to further pare BBB to gain Manchin’s support.
Democrats have focused particularly on climate policies, the child tax credit, and reinstating pre-2017 state and local tax deduction (SALT) rules.
On Feb. 1, Manchin suggested that he remains as opposed to the project as ever.
Asked by a reporter whether the SALT deduction should go into BBB, Manchin replied: “What Build Back Better? There is no—I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Whatever work Democrats have been doing behind the scenes to resurrect the bill, Manchin made clear that he hasn’t been a part of it.
“No, no, no, no,” Manchin responded when asked if he had participated in these discussions. “It’s dead.”
Later, Manchin clarified his earlier statements.
“If we’re talking about the whole big package, that’s gone.”
Pressed on whether he would support a smaller package, he said: “We’ll see what people come up with. I don’t know.”
Manchin’s comments are a blow for those senators who continued to work on the bill after Manchin’s rejection in December 2021, and indicate that he hasn’t changed his position on the bill in the intervening weeks.
The bill was approved by the House, where Democrats have a slightly more stable hold, on Nov. 19, 2021. Despite months of infighting between moderates and progressives, every Democrat aside from Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) voted to advance the bill to the Senate.
In the evenly divided Senate, Manchin’s support is a must-have for the package. Unlike most legislation, BBB was advanced under the reconciliation process, a uniquely partisan process that allows legislation to pass by a simple majority. With a more united caucus, Democrats may have been able to advance the legislation easily.
But divisions in the party have been on full display since the Democratic-controlled 117th Congress was seated in January 2020. Moderate and progressive elements in the party have clashed incessantly over policy disagreements, including BBB and its provisions, the filibuster, court-packing schemes, and proposed election law overhauls.
Still, several Democrats have proposed breaking BBB into smaller pieces to get past opposition from Manchin and Sinema. Any such effort would almost certainly have to go through the reconciliation process, since Republicans have been united against the bill since its introduction.
In a Jan. 20 interview with Fox News, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized the effort, saying that Biden “got no mandate” for such a broad policy overhaul.
“The American people aren’t for all of this,” McConnell said. “They thought they were electing a moderate.”
As the entire House and one-third of the Senate prepares for tough midterm battles later this year, work on any smaller draft of the bill will become more difficult. And because Republicans are widely expected to take the House in November, proponents of a scaled-down BBB have little time left to craft and pass the legislation.