BBB: Manchin, Biden, Democrats Draft A Better Bill, And Mitt Romney’s Plan
[guest post by Dana]
This is a goulash of various points and observations about the BBB and its demise. Use it as a jumping-off point.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and President Joe Biden spoke Sunday night after a major blowup in negotiations around the president’s domestic agenda, three people familiar with the call told POLITICO.
The conversation ended with a sense that negotiations would, in fact, resume around the Build Back Better Act in some form in the new year. The tone of conversation was cordial and it was agreed that they would speak again on legislative priorities.
White House staff had given Manchin a heads-up on Thursday that the president was soon to put out a statement accepting a delay in the Build Back Better Act and that it was going to mention the West Virginia senator by name. Manchin objected, asking that either his name be left out or that he not be alone because his family had already been the target of abuse and he didn’t want to be singled out.
But the statement went out anyway, and contained only Manchin’s name. The senator then snapped at White House aides and told them that he was done negotiating. The West Wing interpreted that as meaning that current talks were done but could pick up again next year.
But Manchin meant that he was totally walking away — which he said publicly a few days later on Fox News Sunday, in a move that blindsided and outraged the White House.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post opines that this collapse might be an opening for Democrats – if they want to do the hard work, and compromise (Note: there is much to quibble about in the Op-Ed, but I’m just presenting the basic argument):
…But if Mr. Manchin is open to further talks, his Sunday announcement could prove productive. It might even prod Democrats into drafting a substantially better bill.
The West Virginia Democrat says he is worried about the bill’s fiscal consequences, and has objected that the measure contains a long list of programs funded only for short amounts of time. For example, it would extend an expansion of the federal child tax credit, which drastically cut child poverty, for only a single year. It seems a reasonable bet that, once established, Congress would not allow these programs to expire. But they are expensive, and Democrats have struggled to identify revenue streams to support them permanently. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that extending the act’s provisions indefinitely would cost an extra $3 trillion over a decade — more than the 10-year cost of the act as written. Mr. Manchin is right to worry that future Congresses would be tempted to extend the spending without paying for it responsibly. “They continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill,” Mr. Manchin said Sunday.
The root problem is that, although moderates such as Mr. Manchin have insisted that there be hard caps on how much the federal government can spend, the bill’s authors have refused to prioritize programs for funding. Now, Democrats’ only hope is to pick the bill’s most important elements, fund them permanently and eject the rest. Top priorities should be climate programs, support for children and long-needed fixes to the Affordable Care Act system. They should also excise an exorbitant payoff to high-income taxpayers — a loosening of the federal state and local tax deduction — which would free up more money to finance the act’s remaining programs. If Democrats make the bill more fiscally responsible, it is even possible Mr. Manchin might relent on his objections to the climate section.
As negotiations progressed and Democrats scaled back the overall size of the package, they refused to make enough hard choices about what should stay in and what could go, even as they introduced extraneous provisions such as the state and local tax provision, undermining the bill’s potential to do lasting good. If Democrats return to Build Back Better’s original goals, they might pass not just a substantial bill, but one that justifies the faith that voters invested in the party when they put it in charge of both the legislative and executive branches of government.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the BBB collapse, Sen. Romney has another option for lawmakers:
Now that it’s clear “Build Back Better” isn’t moving forward & with bipartisan opposition to extending the President’s ill-crafted Child Tax Credit, the Administration has an opportunity to actually work with Republicans & Democrats on lasting, fiscally-responsible family policy. pic.twitter.com/6ePaFrYciA
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) December 20, 2021
And let’s end with some silly talk from Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t seem to realize that Manchin already announced his rejection of the BBB on national television, so why would he care about voting publicly on it?
“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”