Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has doubled down on his concern that President Joe Biden’s $1.85 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) Act will worsen already skyrocketing inflation, signaling that the senator is still on the fence about the House-passed spending plan.
Currently, inflation of the U.S. dollar is at its highest level in nearly four decades. According to the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), inflation jumped by 0.8 percent in November alone, a slight decrease over October’s 0.9 percent jump. Still, the report showed that the 12 month period between Nov. 30, 2020, and Nov. 30, 2021, saw a jump of 6.8 percent in the price of all items, the most severe inflation jump since 1982.
Gasoline has been hit the hardest by inflation, with the Labor Department detailing a 12-month increase of 58.1 percent in consumer gas prices.
Amid this still rising inflation, Manchin has been extremely cautious toward his party’s BBB Act, arguing that it might worsen inflation.
In recent months, the senator has been the only thing standing between Democrats and the passage of their massive spending bill. Now, Manchin has indicated that he’s still unwilling to support the bill as inflation continues to increase.
Manchin has in the past warned that too much spending or too much inflation could hurt existing social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and others, or could hurt the United States’ ability to respond to global or national threats from adversaries.
Speaking to reporters on Dec. 13, Manchin indicated that Russia’s recent military buildup along the Ukraine border is weighing heavily on his mind as he considers whether to vote for the legislation.
“Inflation is real, it’s not transitory. It’s alarming. It’s going up, not down. And I think that should be something we’re concerned about [along with the] geopolitical fallout,” Manchin said.
“These are all concerns,” he continued. “The unknown right now is very, very great.”
For months, Biden and White House press secretary Jen Psaki have parroted the party line on inflation, saying that it was only “transitory” and would ease on its own.
While many of his colleagues accepted and echoed that argument, Manchin himself indicated that he disagreed. In November, Manchin warned that the inflation was “not transitory” and was “getting worse.” Since then, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has given the same opinion, saying that it’s “time to retire” the word “transitory” from the inflation narrative.
A self-described “conservative Democrat,” Manchin has been a thorn in his party’s side since Democrats took control of Congress. He’s rejected a plethora of proposals put forward by his colleagues, including legislation designed to federalize election rules, weakening or abolishing the filibuster, packing the Supreme Court, and, of course, the BBB Act, among others.
Another swing vote, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), also has been critical of the bill.
Originally, Sinema expressed opposition to the larger $3.5 trillion draft of the bill. But since the White House unveiled a smaller variant of the measure, the Arizona Democrat and her office have kept a policy of radio silence about Sinema’s positions, leaving observers unsure of how she’ll vote.
While the BBB Act was approved by the House on Nov. 19 after behind-the-scenes political wrangling by Democratic leadership, the Senate poses an entirely different challenge.
Currently, Democrats hold a very uncommon position in the 50-50 Senate, holding the slimmest of majorities because of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote as president of the chamber. For Harris to use that vote, however, 50 senators must vote for a bill.
No Republican has supported the BBB Act, leaving Democrats reliant on Manchin and Sinema’s critical votes.
Originally, Democrats hoped to have the legislation passed by the end of September. But after weeks of negotiations, moderates in both chambers of Congress were still opposed.
The bill’s eventual passage through the House was a hard-won victory for Biden and his allies, but the bill could still yet be shot down by the Senate.
Given Manchin’s continued reticence toward the legislation over inflation, the lack of any clear sign of when that inflation will end, and Sinema’s almost total silence about the legislation, the bill’s future is far from certain.