Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) kicked the hornets’ nest when he “killed” the Build Back Better Act by declaring his unshakable stance against the bill. But is it really dead, or just in a coma? Manchin has his issues with some pretty big parts of the act – but there are programs within that he wants to see become law. After a chat between Manchin and the president, and recent comments from the speaker of the House, it looks like Democrats will be headed to the drawing board after the first of the year – so the bill has a chance, however slim it may be. The question is as it has been all along: Is there a way to “Build Back Better” radically enough to please the progressives but reasonably enough to mollify the moderates?
All I Want for Christmas …
Progressives and the president wanted upwards of $6 trillion for the bill; then they settled for $3.5 trillion. Finally, they cut it down to just under $2 trillion – but only, as Liberty Nation’s Tim Donner put it, by sunsetting the truth. “They pretend that new welfare programs obviously designed to be permanent will only be funded for anywhere from one to six years, thus reducing the projected cost exponentially,” Mr. Donner pointed out – and he wasn’t the only one to see through the subterfuge. One of Sen. Manchin’s demands, before he’ll support the legislation, is that any program not cut entirely from the final draft be funded for a full decade. With no other changes, this would increase the ten-year cost of the bill from the advertised $1.75 trillion to a much more honest $4.75 trillion.
Manchin reportedly delivered his own framework – with all his programs running ten years – with a cost of just $1.85 trillion over the next decade. The Mountain State senator’s goal is considerably less sneaky, but it still doesn’t represent the true cost of the progressive bill. Since none of those programs are really designed to end in a few years – or a decade, for that matter – a more accurate cost analysis might be to say that Biden’s Build Back Better, as it stands now, has a price tag of about $475 billion, annually – minimum – forever. These tax-funded initiatives probably will change eventually, but typically once in place, they only grow. Looking at figures made available by the U.S. government Data Lab, in 2021, $6.82 trillion was spent by the Swamp critters. However, according to the same source, the government only brought in $4.05 trillion in revenue throughout 2021.
But hey, what’s another half a trillion added to an almost $3 trillion annual deficit?
A New Home for the Holidays?
Sen. Manchin faced considerable pressure to get on board with the spending plan, but he refused to buckle. And he still isn’t sweating, despite the backlash that followed and will almost certainly continue. LN’s Leesa K. Donner wrote:
“The good senator from the Mountain State has held to his principles and will most likely have to endure a lengthy lashing for not going along to get along with his fellow Democrats. However, based on his most recent statements, Manchin does not seem to care that he has become the left’s latest whipping boy.”
Doesn’t care, indeed. For one thing, the man appears to be fed up. “I knew where they were, and I knew what they could and could not do,” Manchin explained Monday, Dec. 20. “They just never realized it, because they figure surely to God we can move one person, surely we can badger and beat one person up, surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough.” Well, they certainly made him uncomfortable – but it had an unintended effect. “Well, guess what? I’m from West Virginia,” he declared. “I’m not from where they’re from and they think they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive, period.”
Many of the Democrats who have reacted seem to think that he’s a traitor, and that he’ll be made to suffer for his betrayal. In truth, he never said he would accept Build Back Better in its current form – indeed, he said he would not. They finally just pushed him to the point where he decided he didn’t want to work with them anymore. And there just isn’t really anything the Democratic Party can do to punish him that would be worth the cost. Manchin hails from West Virginia, as he pointed out. He’s the only Democrat in national office for the state – and there’s a reason for that. West Virginia is not a progressive stronghold. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said, “I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia.” Should he decide to run for re-election in 2024, this move will likely help him, rather than hinder him.
In an interview with a West Virginia radio station, Manchin was asked if the party might give him the boot for this. His response was that he hoped there was still room for a centrist, non-progressive like him, but if not, “then they’ll have to push me wherever they want me.” So could Sen. Manchin be looking for a new home for the holidays? It’s unlikely. With a 50/50 Senate split, the Democratic Party simply needs him more than he needs it. Joe Manchin is, to put it bluntly, about as politically untouchable as he can get.
Building Back or Backing Up?
- Undo some of the tax cuts of the Trump era.
- Lower prescription drug prices.
- Institute a work requirement for parents on the child-poverty credit and set income limits.
- Revise – or, more likely, cut – the environmental agenda in Build Back Better.
And all the while it must remain no more expensive over ten years than $1.85 trillion. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for the progressive pork. The White House says the senator and the president had a good chat and agreed to see about a redesign in 2022. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she’s “hopeful that we will soon reach an agreement so that this vital legislation can pass as soon as possible next year.”
But are the desires of the two camps simply too far apart? At this point, the negotiations seem less likely to Build Back Better and more to build up legislative blockage, keeping Congress busy without result so that the rest of Biden’s agenda dies as well.
~ Read more from James Fite.