Biden's Build Back Better bill in serious danger


President Biden’s $2 trillion climate and social spending bill, which appeared to have strong momentum when it passed the House a month ago, now appears to be in real danger of collapsing in the Senate.

Democratic senators now concede there is no chance of passing the Build Back Better Act before the end of the year, as they had hoped.

A Senate Republican aide on Thursday said that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Republicans are close to a deal to confirm a bloc of nominees and hold some others over until January, which would clear the Senate calendar for the rest of 2021 and allow senators to go home for Christmas.

But more importantly, there is also a chance the entire Build Back Better bill will have to be reworked to accommodate Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) opposition to including a one-year extension of the expanded child tax credit in the bill.

Manchin says he does not oppose the tax credit, which he has backed in past legislation. But he argues that because the credit is likely to be renewed over the next decade, its true cost is not reflected in the current bill's official Congressional Budget Office score.

The West Virginia senator wants the bill to reflect the 10-year cost of the tax credit, which would require other tax hikes or spending cuts to prevent the official cost of the bill from rising heavily.

With the Senate evenly divided, Democrats acknowledge they can’t move forward without Manchin and the bill will have to wait until 2022.

And frustrations are rising.

“The situation points out that a 50-50 Senate is really problematic, I’ve used the word sucks. It definitely enables one or two people to hold things up, so yes, I’m frustrated,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told reporters, expressing frustration shared by many Democratic senators over the impasse.

The 10-year extension of the tax credit would cost about $1.5 trillion, but Manchin also wants to keep the overall cost of the bill at $1.75 trillion.

That means there would be little room for other Democratic priorities in the legislation, such as long-term home health care, generous child care subsidies, expanded Medicare benefits, universal prekindergarten and raising the cap on state and local tax deductions.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday said that Democrats had “missed an opportunity” and described himself as “frustrated and disappointed.”

“We had more than ample opportunity to reach ... a Democratic agreement — I never assumed any bipartisan support. We missed an opportunity, but I’m not giving up,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Thursday he was “very disappointed” the bill had stalled but added, “I’m determined to keep pressing forward.”

Durbin said he was “stunned” to learn of Manchin’s last-minute opposition to a one-year extension of the child tax credit, which many Democrats saw as the core component of the bill.

“I was stunned by that,” Durbin said on Thursday when asked about Manchin’s opposition to including a short-term extension of the beefed-up child tax credit. “That is such a critical element — the largest tax cut for working Americans in the history of the United States. We were so proud of what we accomplished there, and for this to come up as an issue toward the end was stunning.”

He cautioned that jettisoning the provision would face staunch opposition, noting “the level of emotion in our caucus about that child tax credit is very high.”

Democrats will discuss what next steps to take on Biden’s climate and social spending agenda at a lunch meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

But there’s no clear path forward, because Manchin has made it clear that he’s not eager to pass the bill anytime soon and has thrown up various objections to different elements of the bill.

“Apparently, Manchin’s approach to this has changed a lot. I don’t know where he is today or where he’ll be tomorrow,” Durbin said.

Schumer provided little guidance when he addressed the Senate Thursday morning, mentioning Build Back Better only briefly and shifting focus to another key Democratic priority, voting rights legislation.

Republicans, meanwhile, are taking a victory lap and predicting that Build Back Better is dead in its current form.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, proclaimed the bill “dead forever.”

“I think Build Back Better is dead forever, and let me tell you why: because Joe Manchin has said he's not going to vote for a bill that will add to the deficit,” Graham said during an appearance on Fox News’s “Hannity.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also pointed to Manchin’s opposition to the core element of the bill as a major victory.

“Yesterday, we got indications the far left’s slapdash sprint may be hitting the pause button. That would be great news for the American people,” he said on the Senate floor Thursday. “The best Christmas gift Washington could give working families would be putting this bad bill on ice.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said Democrats would have a much tougher time passing the bill in an election year.

“Every day that goes by makes it harder to pass because their so-called moderates start worrying about the voters in November. So I think this has been a positive development,” he said of the bill’s failure to pass before Christmas. 

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