Progressive anger erupts after Manchin kills Build Back Better
Revs. William Barber, center, and Liz Theoharis, right, slam Manchin during a rally supporting the Build Back Better Act in Washington. | Patrick Semansky / AP

This article features AP reporting by Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram, and Hope Yen, along with additional material from People’s World. Watch our pages for further analysis of the political situation surrounding Build Back Better.

WASHINGTON (AP)—Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin all but delivered a death blow to the Build Back Better Act, President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion domestic policy initiative, throwing the Democratic Party’s agenda into jeopardy, infuriating the White House, and leaving angry colleagues desperate to salvage what’s left of a top priority.

The West Virginia senator’s announcement that he could not support the bill, delivered on “Fox News Sunday” after only a cursory heads-up to the president’s staff, potentially derails not only Biden’s BBB but sparks fresh questions over passing voting rights legislation and potentially other significant bills that would require his vote in the 50-50 Senate.

The BBB package would provide hundreds of billions of dollars to help millions of families by creating free pre-school and bolstering child care aid. It would shore up federal subsidies for health insurance and expand access to Medicaid in states that have not done so.

There is more than $500 billion for tax credits and spending aimed at curbing carbon emissions, which experts consider the largest federal expenditure ever to combat climate change.

Other provisions would limit prescription drug price increases, create hearing benefits for Medicare recipients, and boost aid for the elderly, housing, and job training. Nearly all of it would be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and large corporations.

Responding to an outcry from fellow Democrats over Manchin’s sabotage, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said early Monday that the Senate would vote on both BBB and voting rights in the new year—and keep voting on Biden’s big initiative “until we get something done.”

“We simply cannot give up,” Schumer said in a letter to colleagues.

Republicans praised Manchin for joining all GOP senators now halting Biden’s big social services and climate change package. But progressive Democrats mercilessly portrayed Manchin as a deal-breaker who failed to keep his word, and even moderates heaped on criticism after months of talks. Whether the senator, a lifelong Democrat, is making a definitive break from his party also became part of the discussion.

In a radio interview Monday, Manchin reiterated his views when asked if there is still room for him in the party.

“I would like to hope that there are still Democrats that feel like I do, like I said, I’m socially and fiscally responsible and socially compassionate,” he said. Adding, “Now, if there’s no Democrats like that then they have to push me wherever they want.”

Progressives have questioned Manchin’s motives and whether he believes in progressive values.

“We knew he would do this,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, a leader of House progressives, said Manchin can no longer say “he is a man of his word.”

“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont who chairs the Budget Committee, said on CNN.

Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign had the harshest words for the West Virginia senator. “Joe Manchin has been a liar all the way. The only way to deal with him is to expose him,” Barber tweeted. “And let his own people, poor people, low-wage workers, and religious leaders do it. To do this the week of Christmas is a sign of just how messed up he is!”

Barber has also accused Manchin of lying to Biden to secure passage of the $550 billion infrastructure in November. He said Manchin is “a plutocrat who only cares about what his corporate backers and profit-driven masters want no matter how many people—the 140 million poor and low-wealth people—are hurt.”

With Congress recessed for the Christmas holidays, the next steps are highly uncertain. Some Democrats insisted on recalling the Senate to session to force an immediate vote, though that appeared unlikely. Others were fast at work trying to win back Manchin’s support and pick up the pieces of what one aide compared to a jigsaw puzzle tossed on the floor. Biden’s reputation as a seasoned dealmaker hung in the balance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to strike an optimistic chord, assuring House Democrats and others that an agreement could still be reached early in the new year. Rather than denouncing Manchin—her statement Sunday night didn’t mention him by name—Pelosi encouraged members of her caucus to highlight the measure’s impact on constituents while “barnstorming” the nation in the weeks ahead.

“It is imperative that American families know how this once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure will improve their lives,” Pelosi said.

Manchin said on Sunday that after five-and-half months of negotiations among Democrats, “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation.” Manchin said: “I can’t get there.”

The West Virginia senator all but said the bill would die unless it met his consistent demands for a smaller package—something that would be hard for many Democrats in the narrowly divided Congress to accept, even if they had few other options.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki unleashed an unusually hardball response to a lawmaker who had been personally courted by the president, and whose vote is crucial.

“We will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word,” Psaki said.

A potential new deadline for Biden and his party comes with the expiration of an expanded child tax credit that has been sending up to $300 monthly directly to millions of families’ bank accounts. If Congress fails to act, the money won’t arrive in January.

Despite months of talks, negotiations between Biden and Manchin erupted this week, foreshadowing no year-end deal.

Psaki said in her statement that Manchin had “in person” given Biden a written proposal last Tuesday that was “the same size and scope” of a framework for the bill that Democrats rallied behind in October, and agreed he’d continue talks. That framework had a 10-year cost of $1.85 trillion. Officials hadn’t previously disclosed that Tuesday meeting.

There are different accounts of what transpired next, but the conversation did not go well. One person familiar with the closed-door talks said that after Manchin introduced the idea of cutting the child tax credit the conversation turned hot. The person insisted on anonymity to share details of the talks. The Associated Press had previously reported Biden and Manchin moved further apart.

By Sunday, a Manchin aide gave the White House about a 20-minute notice before the lawmaker announced his position on national television, said another person familiar with the senator’s actions who described them only on condition of anonymity.

Manchin’s declaration was a stunning repudiation of Biden’s and his party’s top goal. Other problems with Biden’s package have arisen, caused by another “moderate” Democrat, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, but Manchin’s stands out.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., arrive at the office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is moderating bipartisan negotiations on immigration, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, had spent weeks trying to turn Manchin against the bill and said “I very much appreciate” Manchin’s opposition.

A rejection of the legislation has been seen by many as unthinkable because of the political damage it could inflict on Democrats, particularly ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when their control of Congress seems in doubt.

Manchin said he was opposing the 10-year, roughly $2 trillion bill because of his supposed concerns about inflation, growing federal debt, and a need to focus on the omicron COVID-19 variant.

He also wants the bill’s initiatives to last the measure’s full 10-year duration, but that’s a tall order—the Democrats specifically made many of them temporary to keep the bill’s overall price tag closer to what Manchin said he could live with.

Democrats dismiss Manchin’s assertions that the bill would fuel inflation and worsen budget deficits. They say its job training, education, and other initiatives would spur economic growth and curb inflation long-term.

As for progressives, they aren’t stopping the fight. “This December, a new intensity has been born as the Senate’s failure to act is another link in the chain of events that served to only embolden us and intensify our moral dissent,” Poor People’s Campaign’s Barber said. “December is the Senate’s deadline, but the deadline for the movement is when we win.”


Associated Press writer Josh Boak in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed to this report.