According to media reports, momentum is growing for narrowing the scope of President Biden’s social spending and climate package as Democrats seek a way to get the bill through the Senate with Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) support.
Manchin effectively killed a much more wide-ranging bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, on Sunday by announcing his opposition, deeply disappointing and angering the White House and fellow congressional Democrats.
Days later, the pain still stings, but Democrats are actively seeking solutions that might find muster with the conservative West Virginia senator, whose vote is a necessity in the 50-50 Senate evenly divided between the two parties.
Democratic lawmakers, lobbyists and experts at think tanks believe Manchin might be won over if the bill is revised to include fewer programs for a longer period of time.
“That is the way forward here,” said Ben Ritz, director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute, who has advocated for a bill with fewer items. “Most of the party is starting to come around to that,” Ritz added. Some Democrats think their party made a mistake in going too large in the first place.
Progressives initially pushed a $6 trillion measure before falling back to $3.5 trillion — in part to signal that cut represented a concession on their party. The lower figure also proved too high for Manchin and fellow centrist Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), however, and the House ultimately passed a roughly $2 trillion version of Biden’s spending plan in November, which had a number of key provisions that were temporary. For example, the bill included provisions to extend the increased child tax credit amount for one year, and to create a universal preschool program for six years.
“To get someone like Manchin, a Democrat representing a conservative state, to a point where they can support something, [Democrats] started off on the wrong foot about letting the bill get too big about too many things,” said Tucker Shumack, a principal at Ogilvy Government Relations who previously served as an aide to former moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
Manchin argued that Democrats are not being honest about the cost of the bill, since temporary programs are likely to be extended in the future. “They continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill,” Manchin said in a statement Sunday outlining his opposition to the measure.
In his recent comments, Manchin said he couldn’t explain voting for Build Back Better in West Virginia, a state former President Trump won twice by double digits. Jorge Castro, co-lead of the tax-policy practice at Miller & Chevalier and a former aide to former West Virginia Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D), said that a more focused bill could help Democrats counter Republican attacks that the bill is a grab-bag of spending. “I think it definitely helps from a messaging perspective,” he said.
Some moderate Democrats have long called for the Build Back Better Act to include fewer items for a longer time period, and are emphasizing this idea in the wake of Manchin’s recent comments.
“At the start of these negotiations many months ago, we called for prioritizing doing a few things well for longer, and we believe that adopting such an approach could open a potential path forward for this legislation,” Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, said in a statement Sunday.
White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain tweeted a link to DelBene’s statement, saying the administration appreciates “all that @RepDelBene and the House New Dem Coalition has done to move forward on Build Back Better and the President’s agenda!”
Progressive lawmakers have been leading supporters of including more items in the bill, even if that means some programs are temporary. But they are acknowledging that some items may need to be removed from the package in subsequent negotiations.
In a statement on Wednesday, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said that cuts should be as minimal as possible.
“In Congress, we will continue to prioritize a legislative path for Build Back Better, focused on taking the current text of the legislation passed by the House, keeping as much of it as possible — but no less than the elements contained in the framework negotiated by the President and committed to by Senators Manchin and Sinema some months ago,” Jayapal said.
It’s not certain exactly which items from the House-passed bill would end up in a narrower bill, and exactly which would be left out. The New Democrat Coalition in their statement mentioned as top priorities the expanded child tax credit, building on ObamaCare and addressing climate change. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also made reference to those items in a statement.
Manchin has raised concerns about including Medicare expansion and paid family leave in the spending package, suggesting that those items might not make it into a package with fewer content areas.
The expanded child tax credit could prove to be challenging to include in a compromise with Manchin. The West Virginia senator has expressed a desire for the income limits for the credit to be lowered and for there to be work requirements associated with the credit.
The Washington Post on Monday reported that Manchin had provided the White House last week with a $1.8 trillion proposal that included universal preschool for 10 years, ObamaCare expansion and climate spending, but not the expanded child tax credit. Neither Manchin’s office nor the White House have publicly confirmed the report.
Ritz said it’s possible that Manchin and other Democrats could reach a compromise on the child tax credit, such as by targeting the child tax credit expansion more toward younger children or lowering the income level where the expanded credit starts to phase out.
He also said that even if a bill didn’t include an extension of the expanded child tax credit, a package that included other items such as universal preschool, Obama Care expansion, climate funding and affordable housing investments would still be transformative.