The Build Back Better bill is dead. The huge legislation would have provided free Pre-K education, free childcare, enhanced child tax credits, huge investments against Climate change, and about a dozen other initiatives. Who killed it? The media is blaming conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, who spiked the plan on live TV. But this surface-level analysis misses the true cause: failed Biden leadership and an insatiable Left.
Hearing, Not Listening
President’s Biden’s Build Back Better bill (BBB), an amalgamation of his Families Plan and parts of his Jobs Plan, was never getting GOP support. Because of this, the BBB bill would have to pass via budget reconciliation, bypassing the filibuster, albeit requiring the unanimous consent of all Democrats in the Senate. This included consent from moderates like Joe Manchin, a Democrat in a deep red state.
The Party worked to court Manchin early on. In a private meeting in July 2021, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Manchin signed a document acknowledging what the Senator wanted in the future reconciliation legislation.
Among other things, Manchin outlined three red lines for his support: a topline figure of $1.5 Trillion, climate spending for “innovation” not “elimination” (Manchin’s from a coal state), and no more “hand outs.” Understanding in hand, Schumer got Manchin’s crucial vote to begin the budget reconciliation process.
The bill that the Democrats unveiled in September, however, completely ignored Manchin’s concerns. At $6 Trillion, the bill cost four times as much, though it used budget gimmicks to mask its size to $3.5 Trillion. It included a huge expansion of the child tax credit, a “hand out,” and policy language that sought to eliminate fossil fuels. The Democrats knew they required Manchin’s support, they shouldn’t have produced a bill that blatantly slapped him in the face. The seeds of the bill’s failure were planted in the first draft.
Then, House liberals foolishly stalled Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure bill (BIP), which Manchin helped write and champion, using it as “leverage” to try to force Manchin’s support on the BBB bill. This blackmail tactic was never going to work. Liberals wanted infrastructure, as did Biden, it was not leverage.
Ultimately, the liberals caved and passed the BIP. Manchin agreed to do a $1.8 Trillion bill, liberals backed off “kill coal” language in the bill, and slimmed BBB to $1.8T. But this slim form factor was achieved primarily by more budget gimmicks. In reality, the bill still cost $4.7 Trillion. With great loss of political capital, Democrats produced a bill that still violated two of Manchin’s red lines.
Nonetheless, Manchin continue negotiating, offering a further slimmed proposed that eliminated the child tax credit “hand-out,” but still kept universal prekindergarten, childcare assistance, an Obamacare expansion, and hundreds of billions of dollars to combat climate change. You can do a lot with $1.8 Trillion!
But then it all collapsed.
Manchin Spikes the Bill
Just days later, on live TV, Manchin announced he would not continue negotiations. Did Manchin backstab his fellow Democrats? Maybe, but maybe not. It was Manchin who felt backstabbed. Manchin stated that White House staffers did something “inexcusable” and that he was at his “wits end,” but he wouldn’t elaborate.
Anonymous sources at the time, however, quoted Manchin saying that he would not support the child tax credit expansion because low income people would use the money to buy booze and drugs. This leaked private conversation, designed to shame Manchin into complying, is likely the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So while the left has cast Manchin as “moving the goal posts” during negotiations, this is not found in evidence. Manchin has been remarkably consistent in what he wanted in the BBB. Democrats knew they needed Manchin’s support to pass this legislation. Yet they repeatedly ignored his concerns, tried to blackmail him, and ultimately pushed the Senator too far. Democrats killed a potential $1.8 Trillion package that, if not everything they wanted, was still a huge win for the party.
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