Joe Manchin has some advice for fellow Democrats: rebuild Build Back Better and you might still get my vote.
One day after sinking President Joe Biden’s signature social and climate spending legislation, Manchin (D-W.Va.) laid out a path forward that could take months and still fail. He wants the legislation to go through Senate committees and focus on rolling back the 2017 Trump tax cuts. He also wants Democrats to stop trying to force him into compliance.
“I knew what they could and could not do. They just never realized it, because they figure surely to God we can move one person. Surely, we can badger and beat one person up,” Manchin said on West Virginia MetroNews, his first response to the blowback he’s taken from the White House and Democrats for tanking Biden’s signature legislation.
He added: “Well, guess what? I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from, [where] they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive.”
Manchin advised Democrats to put legislation through committee to have any chance of success, saying party leaders spurned his requests to do so on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill. That bill passed on a party-line vote via budget reconciliation, but Manchin said that’s not going to happen again without the committee process.
“I won’t continue to go down everything you want to do, major policy changes and reconciliation. It needs to go through a process,” Manchin added. The House held committee hearings for the legislation, the Senate has not.
Manchin’s comments on Monday put him directly at odds with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is mulling other tactics. Schumer sent a letter to members Monday morning saying he’ll put the $1.7 trillion education, child care, climate and tax reform bill to a floor vote, “so that every member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television.”
Many Democrats called for such a vote after Manchin announced he could not support the legislation. And in a sign Schumer is serious, staffers in both parties continued meeting with the Senate parliamentarian, debating which portions of the bill they might have to drop so the legislation can pass at a simple majority threshold under Senate rules, according to two people familiar with the matter.
“We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act — and we will keep voting on it until we get something done,” Schumer said Monday.
It’s a risky gambit, given the tension between Manchin and other Democrats. Manchin clearly wants to take weeks, if not months, to craft another bill that would means-test benefits and shrink the number of programs in the package to cover a 10-year budget window. But many Democrats take that as just another delay, since Manchin still hasn’t definitively committed to passing new legislation.
Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Manchin called her this morning.
“I took his call and there’s nothing I have said here that I didn’t say to him,” Jayapal said shortly after telling reporters Manchin had gone back on his word to the White House. “That lack of integrity is stunning in a town when people say the only thing you have is your word.”
With Build Back Better stalled out, the Washington Democrat said she wanted the Biden administration to instead take executive action on climate change, among other issues.
And if relations are tense on Capitol Hill, it’s much worse a few blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue, where White House press secretary Jen Psaki accused Manchin of breaking his word to the president on Sunday. That move cheered many Democrats frustrated with Manchin, but prompted a new level of animosity between the West Virginia Democrat and the West Wing, which can’t afford to alienate Manchin in a 50-50 Senate.
Manchin cast doubt on Biden’s Thursday statement that the two could continue negotiating to get an agreement, saying of Biden: “He knew we couldn’t get there.” He otherwise did not directly criticize the president on Monday, but did light up White House staff.
“I just got to the wit’s end. And they know the real reason what happened. They won’t tell you, and I’m not going to tell you,” Manchin said. “It’s not the president, it’s the staff. They drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable.”
Manchin’s comments appear to be a response to reporting last week that he opposed including the expanded child tax credit in the legislation. Manchin later clarified he didn’t want the bill to end the program after one year if the rest of his party was banking on it becoming permanent. The dispute was critical to Manchin’s position since he set a topline spending number of $1.75 trillion; a 10-year expanded tax credit at current levels would eat up nearly all that money and invalidate analyses that said the package’s programs were fully funded. The credit expires this month.
Schumer and Manchin both signed a document in July that showed Manchin wanted a $1.5 trillion bill with less generous benefits than envisioned by the rest of his party, including far more targeted child tax credits to families with low and moderate incomes. He said no matter how Democrats tried to shape the bill to fit into that mold, it never came close to his bottom line.
“We’ve been way far apart philosophically,” Manchin said. “The same bill I have in front of me right now that they kept putting in front of me, was the same $6 trillion bill from the beginning.”
Senate Democrats will discuss the party’s plight on Tuesday evening, a special virtual caucus meeting on the longest night of the year. And if there’s a bright spot for Democrats in all this, it’s that Manchin is still committed to rolling back the 2017 tax cuts signed by President Donald Trump.
In fact, Manchin said the only reason he even voted this summer for a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which paved the way for Democrats to continue negotiating the bill, was because he was so eager to “to fix the taxes so that everybody paid their fair share.”
“We have one chance at this, OK? You have a chance to fix the tax code that makes it fair and equitable,” Manchin said. “So if we all disagree with Republicans’ reconciliation on tax cuts, don’t you think we can sit down and fix a fair and equitable tax code?”
Yet in a 50-50 Senate, even that isn’t simple. Though Manchin’s proposals to raise corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy are widely popular among Democratic senators, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) opposed the rate increases that Manchin supports. She hasn’t commented since Manchin shot down Biden’s vision.
Nicholas Wu and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.