Democrats are bracing for potentially huge losses in next year’s midterm elections, and many believe the next few months will be the last chance for President Joe Biden to turn the tide back by passing major legislation. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is holding up the Build Back better Act, his signature bill. Manchin claims that rising inflation is making it difficult for him to support the bill. Progressives in the party have been sidelined, and are watching with horror as Manchin dictates the bill’s future.
“Whatever Congress is considering, we should do it within the limits of what we can afford,” Manchin told CNNMonday. According to a West Virginia senator, he is trying to reduce the expanded child credit tax credit. He calls it a major driver in inflation. Axios. Sen Lindsey Graham told “Fox News Sunday” that Manchin had asked him to commission a new report on the bill’s cost over 10 years from the Congressional Budget Office, which Manchin then referred to as “sobering.” On Wednesday afternoon, NBC News reported that the Senate was likely to “shelve” the bill and instead take up voting rights legislation. (Manchin opposesThe creation of a filibuster for voting rights is a difficult task.
Biden and Manchin both have spoken severalThis week, the bill was reintroduced several times, leaving observers and congressional reporters unsure about its future. Manchin’s influence is so great — or at least perceived to be so great — that some outlets have taken to referring to him as “the shadow president.” To understand why Manchin has all the leverage right now, it’s necessary to examine the bill’s recent history.
The House of Representatives approved the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November after months of negotiations. This bill is also known as the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. The Senate had already passed the $1.2 billion bill in August. President Biden considered this a major political victory.
Right-wing Democrats in the party, like Sen. Mark Warner, had blamed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s loss days earlier on House progressives. Warner held the left flank of the party responsible for the infrastructure bill’s delay, which he said depressed voter turnout. While conservative Senate Democrats Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Silena, and Kyrsten Sinema were slow to act for weeks on end, there was some truth behind the accusation by progressives that they were also slowing down bill.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, had been holding firm that the infrastructure bill shouldn’t move forward without a complimentary social spending bill. The Build Back Better bill, also known as that piece of legislation, was estimated to have cost $3.5 trillion at the time. It included funding for families, climate change mitigation, and health care expansion. The more controversial bill was always the most popular. The bill was shaped and defended by Sen Bernie Sanders in the upper chamber. Sinema and Manchin did everything they could to trim it down.
Biden had actually linked the bills together during the summer. Biden believed that he could convince Senate Republicans to support the smaller infrastructure bill to clear 60 votes filibuster threshold. The larger bill would then pass the chamber along party lines using a budgetary process called reconciliation. It was a bold plan that relied on both the Democrats and the various factions within them.
For the progressives, the bills needed to stay linked because the belief was that the only way Manchin, Sinema and the rest of the Democrats’ right flank would pass the social spending bill was if their hand was forced by using the infrastructure bill as leverage. The progressives wanted both bills passed; the moderates preferred to pass infrastructure. If the bills were not separated, progressives would be without any other recourse than the goodwill of the rest and the promises that their priorities would become law.
But the huge gubernatorial loss in Virginia, coupled with a surprisingly close governor’s race in New Jersey and Biden’s cratering poll numbers, spooked the administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Within days, the bills were disassociated. House moderates led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer issued a statement pledging their future support for the Build Back Better Act, contingent on the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the cost, known as scoring.
Jayapal, who had previously resisted the White House and Gottheimer, finally gave in. The Congressional Progressive Caucus was fed up after months of defending Jayapal. “We’re going to trust each other,” Jayapal saidThe centrists and the progressives.
But the assurances didn’t satisfy everybody. “I’m a no,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept. “This is bullshit.” Ocasio-Cortez was joined by Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, known collectively as “The Squad.”
“From the beginning, I have been clear that I would not be able to support the infrastructure bill without a vote on the Build Back Better Act,” Omar said in a statementNovember 5. “Passing the infrastructure bill without passing the Build Back Better Act first risks leaving behind childcare, paid leave, health care, climate action, housing, education, and a roadmap to citizenship.”
Biden signed the bipartisan agreement on infrastructure into law. Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure deal into law. The original timeline was for Build Back Better votes to be cast by mid-November. “I am confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act,” Biden tweeted. It’s now more than a month later, and although the bill isn’t dead yet, every new headline about rising inflation gives Manchin additional leverage to pare it down.
Every observer knew that progressives would always have a place at the table, as long as they travelled together, from the moment Biden linked both bills. They were well-respected for their strong stance and held the line. Progressives are now watching as moderates try to cut off money for working parents, and reintroduce massive tax cuts for homeowners in the upper classes by raising the so-called SALT. deduction cap.
Democratic leadership had promised a vote by year’s end, which is looking increasinglyIt is unlikely that a vote will be held, if it happens at all. Punting to January means a cut in benefits recipientsThe child tax credit is the single most important anti-poverty program Congress ever passed for children.
It would be unfair to place all of the blame for the spending bill’s death spiral at the feet of Jayapal, or even the Congressional Progressive Caucus as a whole. Biden and Pelosi continued to lobby the caucus in the final days of delinking the bills. Still, as the future of the Build Back Better act appears further in jeopardy with every passing day, it’s fair to ask whether the Congressional Progressive Caucus would have been better served standing united and threatening to kill both bills. While betting on the goodwill and promises from the rest of the party may pay off in the end, it is almost certain that continuing to exercise power would have been a better move.
There’s an underlying asymmetry to the negotiations as well. “Moderate” Democrats in both chambers were willing to let both bills die, where many progressives were hesitant to walk away with nothing. The history is likely to vindicate six Squad members who knew that letting infrastructure bill advance on its own meant that the social spending bill was dead.