AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
In a seemingly run-of-the-hill Sunday talk show appearance yesterday, West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin shook the political world when he said that he would not support President Joe Biden’s signature spending plan, the so-called “Build Back Better Act.” In a 50-50 Senate, the announcement effectively means that the nearly $2 trillion bill is dead in the water, ending Democrat hopes of implementing their progressive social platform in one fell swoop. While the news was met with justifiable jubilation from Republicans and shocked outrage from Democrats, lingering questions remain about how this latest development will affect further negotiations on Capitol Hill heading into a critical midterm year for both parties.
During an appearance yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Manchin, who has been the most vocal skeptic among Democrats of the Build Back Better Act, told host Bret Baier that “I’ve always said this Bret, if I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it. And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t.” When Baier followed up, confirming that Manchin was indeed officially pulling his support, Manchin nodded in agreement: “This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.”
With Republicans unified in opposition to the bill, Democrats needed Manchin’s support to send the legislation to Biden for signature after the House passed it late last month. Democrats had already made significant cuts to the bill after opposition from Manchin and other less radical Democrats like Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema earlier this fall, but Manchin still expressed concerns about the effect of certain climate policies in the bill on West Virginia’s all-important coal industry, in addition to how the bill would worsen rising inflation and massively expand the reach of the federal government.
Manchin’s statement came as a gut-wrenching blow to a Biden administration that was already reeling from a litany of crises, many of them self-induced, that have plagued the country over the past year. With some polls showing a double-digit lead for Republicans on the generic ballot, many Democrats saw Build Back Better as a last-ditch effort to salvage their majorities in next year’s elections.
The Biden team appears to have been completely caught off-guard by the announcement. Manchin reportedly refused calls from the White House prior to his appearance on Fox and told an aide to deliver the news to President Biden instead. In response, the White House released a statement lambasting Manchin that called his statements “a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the president and the senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”
Congressional Democrats were also apparently blindsided by the move and outraged at Manchin, particularly after House Progressives begrudgingly agreed earlier this fall to a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill based on a promise from Democratic leaders that they would be able to get Build Back Better passed. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), perhaps the biggest proponent of the bill in the Senate, demanded a vote on the legislation anyway, saying that Manchin’s statements showed he had no “guts” or “courage.”
Republicans had the exact opposite reaction, celebrating what is undoubtedly their biggest win since Biden took office. In an increasingly rare sight in today’s hyper-partisan political climate, Republicans also praised Manchin for his stance, with one House GOP member calling it a “Christmas miracle.”
However, while Republicans are right to consider yesterday’s news a massive success, the victory does not change the basic power dynamics in Washington, and conservatives would be wise to measure their optimism with a healthy dose of caution. This was, after all, just a TV interview. Manchin may be playing to extract some large concession, and while his statement certainly seemed firm, the history of negotiations over this bill suggests that he could yet change his position again.
Democrats are also still in the majority, and they still have the reconciliation process as a means to bypass the filibuster on a spending package. Notably, Manchin said that he could not support “this” legislation – leaving open the possibility that he could be amenable to some provisions in the bill repackaged in another proposal.
Some commentators have, for instance, floated the possibility that Democrats could use reconciliation to extend Child Tax Credits implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic for up to ten years, a proposal that would cost upwards of $1.6 trillion. Although Republicans generally support Child Tax Credits as a way to aid families, Democrats are in favor of removing key work requirements for recipients that Republicans say would disincentivize employment and increase the burden on taxpayers when the country can least afford it.
Regardless of the specifics, based on the current extreme ideological climate within the Democratic Party, it’s unlikely that any spending package will be drastically more moderate than the Build Back Better Act—and least by any historical standard. The danger is that now that Manchin has earned some goodwill with his constituents (West Virginia went for Donald Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020) by opposing a controversial bill, he may feel comfortable voting for a similarly radical package that isn’t as politically charged.
Republicans should also not forget that while they may have some warm feelings for Joe Manchin at the moment, Manchin has nonetheless been a reliable vote for the rest of Joe Biden’s progressive agenda, a trend that is likely to continue. Manchin supported the American Rescue Plan that has directly contributed to the spiraling inflation about which he now claims to be worried. He agreed to raise the debt ceiling in a seeming contradiction with his professed concerns about the national debt, and he voted to confirm dozens of radical activist judges determined to legislate from the bench and turn the judiciary into a chief defender of woke liberalism. And these are just a few progressive priorities that Manchin effectively greenlit in a 50-50 Senate. While his support for these measures didn’t make as much news, they are still part of a broader left-wing effort to “remake” America, and Manchin and every Democrat who voted to support that agenda should be held accountable.
In short, yesterday was a huge victory for conservatives. The Republican messaging effort was apparently successful at communicating to the American people how dangerous the Build Back Better Act was, Congressional Republicans remained unified, and one all-important Democrat correctly judged that it was in the best interest of his state to oppose the bill. But there are still more battles to come, and Democrats are likely to only ramp up the pressure on Manchin to pass extremist legislation as their chances of retaining a majority become slimmer. Stopping Build Back Better should be an energizing moment for conservatives to continue their efforts, holding the line until a new wave of candidates has the chance to take back control of Congress in just 11 short months.