New year, same old Joe Manchin games, same old Biden administration getting the football yanked away.
The week before Christmas, Sen. Joe Manchin III sent the White House a $1.8 trillion counteroffer to President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda that included substantial funds for climate, health-care and education initiatives.
About four weeks later, the West Virginia Democrat has made clear that he does not currently support advancing even that offer following a breakdown in negotiations between Manchin and the White House right before Christmas, three people with knowledge of the matter said.
Manchin said publicly this week that he was no longer involved in talks with the White House over the economic package. Privately, he has also made clear that he is not interested in approving legislation resembling Biden’s Build Back Better package and that Democrats should fundamentally rethink their approach. Senior Democrats say they do not believe Manchin would support his offer even if the White House tried adopting it in full — at least not at the moment — following the fallout in mid-December. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Negotiations deteriorated quickly in December after a White House news release named Manchin as the obstacle to passing the legislation. Manchin then surprised the administration by criticizing the bill on Fox News, after which the White House released a blistering statement calling his credibility into question. Manchin, who has drawn protesters’ ire because of his opposition to the legislation, later said the decision to name him in the news release imperiled the safety of his family.
The White House has continued to project optimism that it will eventually secure Manchin’s vote and approval of a major economic plan by Congress. And Manchin’s $1.8 trillion counteroffer suggested that much common ground between the two sides remained on the policy substance. He said in recent days that he supports much of the administration’s climate agenda, for example.
But Democratic leaders in Congress have abruptly pivoted from trying to complete the economic package to addressing voting rights legislation, leaving unclear the fate of the White House’s chance to remake big parts of the U.S. economy and provide the biggest-ever investment in fighting climate change.
Manchin has talked with a range of public officials trying to sway him on Build Back Better, such as senior White House aide Steve Ricchetti; Larry Kudlow, who was an adviser to President Donald Trump; and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), among others.
White House allies, including several officials in the White House itself, have in recent days expressed confusion as to how the administration could pass up on the potential for $1.8 trillion deal that would amount to one of the most significant pieces of domestic policy in decades.
Manchin’s offer included permanent funding for universal prekindergarten, an expansion of the Affordable Care Act and hundreds of billions of dollars in climate-related spending — measures staunchly opposed by congressional Republicans. His plan also included support for a tax on billionaires, which would amount to the most aggressive plans to reduce wealth inequality in modern American history. And Democrats may not see another majority in Congress for many years.
“A $1.8 trillion package along the lines of what Manchin offered last month would be one of the most transformative, progressive pieces of legislation in modern history,” said Ben Ritz, a budget expert at the Progressive Policy Institute, a D.C. think tank. “The White House should absolutely take it if they can.”
Last month, Manchin was the villain, and what he needed most was a way to kill Build Back Better without being the obvious bad guy. Now he's won on that, and the BBB plan is 100% dead.
It'll be blamed on "Biden and the progressives" for not taking his offer, which was never really an offer anyway. He would have objected to his own offer on the table in order to reset the news cycle, but now he doesn't have to lift a finger.
He's most going to get away with it.