West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin only has to waste another four weeks with posturing over a deal that will never happen before the Senate's month long August recess and campaign season beginning Labor Day, and he'll have successfully, singlehandedly, killed Biden's Build Back Better plan completely, as intended.
Senate Democrats are redoubling their efforts to finalize a new spending package that could lower health-care costs and combat climate change, hoping to hammer out a long-elusive deal with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and bring it to the chamber floor later this month.
A new sense of optimism — and urgency — has set in among party lawmakers nearly seven months after their last attempt to pass a sweeping bill ended in stunning defeat. Piece by piece, Democratic leaders in recent days have started reconstructing their economic ambitions as they race to deliver on a staple element of President Biden’s agenda before the midterm elections in November.
So far, top Democrats have worked out with Manchin new agreements that would cut drug costs for seniors, improve the financial health of Medicare and close a tax loophole that benefits the wealthy. They even have advanced talks around addressing the challenges posed by a faster-warming planet, raising the prospect that they can secure a limited initiative to penalize methane emissions.
Those early agreements have set the stage for Senate Democrats to make an upbeat return to the Capitol on Monday. Manchin is expected to have his next private meeting with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) early in the week, according to two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the deliberations. They are set to discuss climate as Democrats try to bring one of their thorniest fights with the moderate West Virginian to an end.
Plenty remains unresolved, including the fate of a key program that lowers insurance costs for millions of Americans, raising the prospect that the latest round of talks could collapse much as they did before. Adding to the challenge, Republicans have intensified their opposition in recent days, hoping to apply enough political pressure on Manchin that he walks away from the talks again.
“To my friend Joe Manchin from West Virginia, whose vote is going to be necessary for this, I would remind him Joe Biden’s popularity in that state is as low as it is in Wyoming, only 17 percent.,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), leader of the Senate Republican Conference, said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” He added that Manchin “shouldn’t walk the plank for Joe Biden” politically.
Even if Manchin and members of his party manage to strike a deal, it is guaranteed to be far smaller than Democrats’ original, roughly $2 trillion package, known as the Build Back Better Act, which the senator scuttled last year. The cuts might have been unthinkable earlier in the debate, but many Democrats have come to acknowledge them as the costs of compromise — and feel more hopeful than ever that there is now a pathway to achieve it.
“We’re making real progress, we’re picking up steam, and the central reason is we’re focused on cutting costs and addressing these real pocket book issues on the minds of Americans,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the tax-focused Finance Committee.
“I’m not saying it’s all done, it’s all over and the like,” Wyden later added, “but I do feel more confident about the progress that has been made.”