Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) started a political firestorm on Sunday after he told Fox News that he would not be supporting President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better social spending bill, effectively killing the legislation after months of delays.
Social progressives were especially furious over the announcement.
“What Senator Manchin did yesterday represents such an egregious breach of trust of the president,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a newer face among House progressives, was also furious with Manchin’s decision.
“Joe Manchin is the new Mitch McConnell,” Bowman said on Twitter in a jab at the Senate minority leader.
“Build Back Better is Biden’s core campaign promise,” Bowman said in another tweet. “We did everything in our power to protect it and keep his/our word.”
He added, “Biden is trustworthy, Manchin is absolutely not.”
Manchin’s denunciation of the $1.85 trillion bill opened old wounds for social progressives, who had long tried to hold the Manchin-endorsed infrastructure bill hostage in an attempt to force passage of the Build Back Better (BBB) bill. House Progressives have maintained since August that moderates could not be trusted to pass the BBB without progressives holding up the infrastructure bill as leverage.
For reasons that are still somewhat unclear—many negotiations and deals reached over the past several months have been closed-door affairs—progressives relented on this demand, allowing the House leadership to pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in November after months of delays.
In that vote, a few progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) joined Republicans, albeit for different reasons, in voting against passing the infrastructure package.
According to Ocasio-Cortez Monday morning, this was the right move, and Democratic leaders made a mistake in allowing the infrastructure bill to advance on its own.
“It’s an outcome that we had warned about,” Ocasio-Cortez told Scarborough, saying that she and others had warned leaders about the need “to prepare a contingency plan.”
Manchin’s move to effectively kill the bill, Ocasio-Cortez said, was predictable, and was why progressives had demanded that the BBB and infrastructure bill be linked together.
“Of course, we have every right to be furious with Joe Manchin,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “but it’s really up to leadership in the Democratic party who made the decision to get us to this juncture and how we’re gonna move forward.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who is chair of the 96-strong Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and who ultimately supported de-linking the two spending bills, disagrees with Ocasio-Cortez’s assessment.
Like others, Jayapal was furious with Manchin.
“Senator Manchin has betrayed his commitment not only to the President and Democrats in Congress but most importantly, to the American people,” Jayapal said in a statement on behalf of the CPC.
However, Jayapal disagrees that the de-linkage of the infrastructure bill and the BBB is the primary cause of the Democrat’s failure to ultimately pass the BBB.
Jayapal admitted, “I don’t believe [Manchin] wanted to pass Build Back Better.” But she said that holding the infrastructure bill hostage would have done little to ameliorate the situation.
“Had we not passed the infrastructure bill, that would’ve been the day that the senator said ‘[BBB] is done,'” Jayapal argued. “We would’ve still ended up in the same place.”
Failure of BBB Prompts Progressive Calls to Bypass Legislative Process Entirely
With the bill all but doomed to failure through normal constitutional means, some progressives are now calling on Biden to bypass the legislative process entirely, suggesting that he use executive action to institute the objectives of the BBB.
Ocasio-Cortez made the point during her Monday morning interview on MSNBC.
“Democratic leadership has a number of tools at their disposal,” Ocasio-Cortez told Scarborough, “the president particularly.”
“It’s really about time we take the kid gloves off and start using them to govern for working families in this country,” the New York progressive said.
Jayapal made the same case in even starker terms.
“It is now incumbent on President Biden to keep his promise to us and to the American people by using the ultimate tool in his toolbox: the tool of executive actions in every arena immediately,” Jayapal told reporters.
Jayapal added that her caucus would not accept an even smaller package—the original draft of the budget would have cost $6 trillion, which was later lowered to $3.5 trillion and then to $1.85. That includes, Jayapal said, any package that would put less funding toward climate policy, which is allocated around $550 billion in the BBB.
“We can no longer wait on one man to do what the country needs,” Jayapal said, ignoring the 50 other senators who, like Manchin, disagree that the BBB is “what the country needs.”
“We now call on the President to keep his commitment to us that we would Build Back Better,” Jayapal finished.
It is not quite clear what these calls could amount to in real world terms.
Under the U.S. constitution, legislation—especially legislation with such a massively pronounced effect on federal spending and revenues as the BBB—must originate in Congress. Though the power of the executive has expanded dramatically since President Franklin Roosevelt initiated sweeping changes to U.S. economic and military policy, the president is still not allowed, by law, to order $2 trillion in new spending and taxes.
Biden has already pushed the limits of his power with his controversial private sector vaccine mandate, which has faced legal challenges from a bipartisan coalition in Congress, from state attorneys general, legislatures, and governors, to federal courts.
The president can, in certain circumstances under conditions laid out in previously-passed law, use executive orders to do things like modify certain kinds of spending, create new national holidays, or manage federal land. But any effort from the White House to codify any part of the BBB into law through an executive order or other executive action would be entirely unprecedented in U.S. history, and would be a hard sell to the 6-3 conservative-leaning Supreme Court.