Build Back Better: What is Joe Manchin saying to Schumer and Biden?

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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to an aide as he walks out of a Democratic policy luncheon as work continues on the Democrats’ Build Back Better Act, massive legislation that is a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, at the Capitol, in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, delivered what appeared to be a death blow to President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” framework in December. But a stripped-down version of the original bill may yet emerge from the ashes.

Axios reported Friday that Manchin claims to be “earnestly engaged” in discussions with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, over climate, energy and deficit-reduction options.

“Comments by Manchin, along with tempered optimism from some Democrats, suggests a Biden win on the Hill in this midterm year has gone from unlikely to possible,” Hans Nichols wrote.

Manchin reportedly told Nichols the conversations were “respectful” and “encouraging to a certain extent.” But he made no promises that anything would come of them in terms of an agreement. And he said he hasn’t had direct conversations with Biden.

Deseret News reportedin February that for the “Build Back Better” bill to have any chance, an overhaul need to happen. Early predictions from Manchin watchers were that parts of the original bill — including sections on controlling inflation, redoing the tax code, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and tackling climate change — could pass as individual pieces of legislation rather than a conglomeration. A few Senate watchers predicted survival of universal pre-K, too.

“Plenty of Democrats would prefer that Manchin just write his own desired bill rather than turn the House and the Senate into teams of movie detectives trying to solve coded riddles left behind by a mysterious killer,” NBC News reported at the time.

Manchin called “Build Back Better” in its original form “dead.” 

The House passed the nearly $2 trillion package in 2021 and the Senate plan was to pass it through reconciliation, which requires a simple majority. But to do that, they needed Manchin’s support. He hasn’t offered it.

And experts have noted that changes made to appease Manchin might actually cost support from other senators. Sen. Kysten Sinema, D-Arizona, for instance, said she opposes a tax hike, so she would be unlikely to support Manchin’s stated priority of rolling back tax breaks that corporations got during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Lois M. Collins

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