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On Sunday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., dealt what may have been a fatal blow to the core of President Biden’s legislative agenda when he said “no” to the Build Back Better plan.
“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” Manchin said during an interview on Fox News.
Manchin, by many measures the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, has bristled at both the policy proposals and the overall size of the plan, ever since the initial proposal to spend $3.5 trillion over 10 years was unveiled earlier this year. The White House substantially revised the package to appease Manchin, paring back the total spending to a $1.75 trillion bill that passed the House of Representatives last month. It includes funding to fight climate change, establish universal pre-K, lower health care costs, extend the child tax credit and more — but , like a program to incentivize utilities to switch to clean energy.
The votes of all 50 Democratic senators are needed to pass the plan, giving Manchin a de facto veto over any version of the bill he opposes.
In response to Manchin’s comments, the White House released a statement essentially accusing him of breaking his promise to negotiate “in good faith” with the president. Some of the party’s most liberal members were extremely critical of their colleague. said Manchin will have “a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia.” Progressive House member , calling Manchin’s stated reasons for opposing the bill “complete bullshit.”
Why there’s debate
The question of what Manchin wants, both in terms of specific policies and his broader political philosophy, has been the subject of endless debate since Democrats took control of Congress and the presidency in January. Manchin reportedly presented the White House with of Build Back Better, while providing deeper funding for the remaining programs. But there are lingering doubts over whether he’d ultimately back a bill around that, or any, framework.
Many on the left have become frustrated by what they view as constantly changing parameters and illogical arguments that have come from Manchin in recent months. Particular attention has been paid to what some consider to be Manchin’s antiquated views about the causes and solutions to poverty — like his reported statement that . It’s also been suggested that Manchin’s main aim is to burnish his reputation as an independent-minded moderate, rather than actually reach a substantive deal. His most intense critics have accused him of putting in the fossil fuel industry over the needs of the American people.
Manchin’s defenders say he's been consistent in his critiques of Build Back Better throughout the process. Many moderate and conservative pundits have argued that Manchin is correct to stand in the way of Build Back Better, which they, like Manchin, claim will exacerbate inflation, although that effect would be modest and only temporary. Others argue that Manchin is fulfilling the wishes of West Virginians, who are generally much more conservative than the average American voter.
There’s some hope among Democrats that Manchin might support a reworked version of Build Back Better that abandons large pieces of the existing proposal and instead invests a similar amount of money in a handful of key priorities like health care funding, pre-K and clean energy. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he plans to call a vote on Build Back Better in January, but it’s unclear what shape that final bill might take.
Manchin benefits from being the target of criticism from fellow Democrats
“It boils down to this: Manchin doesn’t give a lick if the Democratic Party doesn’t like him. Biden lost West Virginia by nearly 40 points, and his constituents aren’t inclined to support anything with the president’s name attached to it. In that sense, being assailed by the left only helps Manchin politically.” — Rachael Bade, Ryan Lizza and Eugene Daniels,
Manchin is protecting Democrats from themselves
“For inexplicable reasons, Joe Biden misread his narrow electoral victory, and the narrow Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill, as a mandate for ‘transformational’ change. Mr. Manchin is offering the President and his party an escape route, and they should thank him for it.” — Editorial,
He has been clear about what he wants, but Democrats weren’t listening
“What’s mysterious is why they ever thought Manchin would come around on BBB. … My own suspicion is that Senate Democrats and their leaders were lulled into complacency by press coverage, the subtext of which was that the BBB bill was great stuff, loved by the public, essential to overcoming the pandemic.” — Michael Barone,
Manchin is simply representing his constituents, who don’t want the bill to pass
“Contrary to what [White House press secretary Jen Psaki] said, the actual flip-flop would have been Manchin’s deciding to vote for Build Back Better. In doing so, he would have broken public commitments he made to West Virginians, nearly three-quarters of whom said they wanted him to oppose the bill.” — Editorial,
Manchin believes being viewed as a moderate is good for him and his party
“Perhaps Manchin is being tactical. Perhaps there is still some version of BBB he can support. If so, his support will brand the bill as moderate — with a capital M. Not the worst thing going into an election year in which moderate voters in swing districts will decide the outcome.” — Paul Begala,
Manchin has no interest in improving the lives of his constituents
“Joe Biden sought to step into this morass and say to people in West Virginia and across the country that they deserve the things that citizens of all other developed nations, and many developing ones, already have. But now Joe Manchin … overrules the president of the United States and says to the people ravaged by these things that, no, the government can’t help them.” — Michael Tomasky,
Manchin is using his leverage to force major changes to the bill
“The best-case scenario for Biden is that Manchin intended his comments today not as a definitive end to negotiations but as a hard-line tactic aimed at forcing Democrats to take his position seriously, to stop trying to pressure him to buckle, and to end their attempts to win his support merely by tinkering around the edges of Build Back Better.” — Russell Berman,
Manchin may not even know what he wants
“So, is Manchin fully dug in against any form of Build Back Better at this point? Or is he just trying to get Democrats to finally take his negotiating demands seriously — basically, holding out for a better deal? The answer hinges on whether Manchin himself is negotiating in good faith or bad faith. … It’s unclear if even Manchin himself knows which is the case.” — Andrew Prokop,
Manchin has a gross misunderstanding of what poor people need
“In reality, poverty is overwhelmingly caused by people not being able to work, which is about half the population at any given time. The welfare state can eradicate poverty by distributing income to all non-workers — or Manchin can falsely smear poor people as degenerate drug addicts and protect rich people (like himself, incidentally) from higher taxes.” — Ryan Cooper,
Manchin cares only about himself
“This is why you can’t play ball with people like Manchin. It’s not because they want to move too slowly or incrementally or have different ideas on how to move forward. ... it’s because they’re f***ing corrupt liars.” — , The Nation
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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File