Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) admitted on the Senate floor Friday that President Joe Biden does not expect his Build Back Better (BBB) social spending bill to pass before January amid continued reticence by moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Speaking about the future of the $1.85 trillion package, Schumer said, “The president requested more time to continue his negotiations, and so we will keep working with him, hand in hand, to bring this bill over the finish line and deliver on these much-needed provisions.”
Biden has been involved in ongoing talks with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) for months; Manchin and Sinema have gone to the White House so many times over the past several months that one lawmaker quipped that they both have a “permanent parking spot” at the presidential mansion.
While it is difficult to gauge where Sinema, who has an oft-stated aversion to discussing her beliefs with reporters, stands on the bill, Manchin has been far from shy to challenge his party’s mega bill.
Since September, Manchin has constantly expressed fears over the potentially-disastrous financial effects of the BBB Act—particularly over the risk that it will further increase inflation, which has gone up around 7 percent over the last 12 months.
The newest inflation numbers have only increased Manchin’s resolve on this front.
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.
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.
“Inflation is real, it’s not transitory,” Manchin said, rejecting his parties often-repeated claim that the current inflation is “transitory” and will decrease naturally over time. “It’s alarming. It’s going up, not down. And I think that should be something we’re concerned about.”
After Fed chief Jerome Powell gave up on the “transitory” narrative, it is becoming increasingly clear that inflation is a serious and growing problem.
Now, supporters of Biden and his staff are trying to find new ways to market the BBB Act to Manchin.
Biden and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki have recently taken to arguing that while inflation is a problem, the BBB Act will not cause it to worsen since it is “fully paid for.”
In fact, there is reason to believe that this claim is not true.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the BBB Act would increase the U.S. deficit by $367 billion over 10 years.
Analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, moreover, found that if made permanent, the spending in BBB would cost the nation around $2.4 trillion over 10 years, around $550 billion more than the purported price tag.
With Biden’s admission that he has not been able to sway Manchin, any lingering hopes that the bill could pass before Christmas have been effectively snuffed out.
Though the House, where Democrats hold a small but fairly safe majority, did pass the bill in mid-November, the Senate is another challenge altogether.
Democrats and Republicans each hold half of the seats in the upper chamber, an event that has only happened four times in U.S. history. With the benefit of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, Democrats hold the thinnest possible majority.
Thus, the BBB Act will need the support of all 50 senators, including the ever-reticent Manchin, to pass the Senate.
Adding to the challenge, lawmakers will soon be leaving Capitol Hill for their holiday recess. When they return, the midterm season will be well and truly underway, forcing vulnerable Senate Democrats to divert their time and resources to competitive battles in their home states, meaning Biden will face an even steeper challenge to pass the bill after December.