Is Build Back Better Dead, Or Is It Just Sleeping?



For most of the fall, "Build Back Better in peril" has felt like a cheap shortcut in Washington Post ledes, dramatic but insubstantial, like "Dems in Disarray." At the moment though, it sure looks like the prospects of it getting passed before the year ends aren't great, thanks to yet another huff by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), who seems to have decided that he really doesn't like a central — and very popular — component of the bill, the expansion of the child tax credit.

Since July, the expanded credit, part of the American Rescue Plan, has been providing families a monthly payment of $300 per child under five and $250 for every kid under 18 for folks who make up to $75,000 for a single taxpayer, or $150,000 filing jointly. The expanded CTC, along with direct payments and emergency unemployment benefits, is why many working and middle-class families have been able to weather the pandemic and the economic recession fairly well.

This should get you on the phone to your senators and representatives, to make sure they hear from you: If Build Back Better isn't passed before the end of the year, this week will mark the last of those payments, which went out Wednesday. They're making kids' lives noticeably better — particularly kids in families too poor to qualify for it before — and it would be awful if the program just stopped, because it would mean fairly immediate hardship for millions of Americans.


But at the moment, the Senate doesn't have the 50 votes needed to pass Build Back Better, which also includes so many other measures that would help working Americans, like universal pre-kindergarten, affordable daycare, home and community aid for folks with disabilities and the elderly, help with insurance premiums, and more. Not to mention the absolutely vital funding to begin moving America away from fossil fuels, which merely has implications for billions of humans on our wet noisy little planet.

Talks between Manchin and President Biden have not been going well, according to insiders, with Manchin yet again calling for cuts to the bill that he's already demanded be cut dramatically. As we noted previously, he's now complaining that, in the name of "transparency," he would like the costs of measures like the expanded child tax credit to be measured out for 10 years. Mind you, the only reason funding for the CTC was reduced to just a single year, to be renewed after the midterm elections, was that Manchin demanded a smaller overall price tag for Build Back Better.

Earlier this week, Axios reported that Manchin has been telling Senate colleagues not only that the bill sneakily hides the 10-year cost of the expanded CTC (roughly $1.4 trillion over 10 years), but also that he fears it may be driving inflation, what with all those families finally being able to put food on the table or even get their growing kiddos shoes that fit. Frankly, that's bullshit anyway — the spending simply isn't enough to have an effect on inflation. And Manchin's apparently not at all interested in what sorts of benefits result from making sure 40 million lower and middle-class families have a few extra thousand dollars a year to spend on things that make the economy go, to say nothing of the measurably better outcomes for kids who aren't living in poverty.

Frankly, he just doesn't think people deserve help the way big corporations do. Last week, the Washington Post notes, Manchin said at an event sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, “If we keep sending checks, it’s going to be hard to stop the checks.” Imagine saying something like that about Social Security and surviving politically. Yes, that's the point: To make sure kids have a chance to get a better chance in life.

Now, we should note that it's not absolutely certain that Manchin is dead set against the CTC, because Joe Manchin is just not the sort of person who can be pinned down to any particular position until he votes, and even then, who knows? WaPo hears different things from different insiders:

One person familiar with the matter said Wednesday that Manchin essentially seeks to zero-out the program in the bill in his talks with Biden. A second person familiar with his thinking — also speaking on the condition of anonymity — said the senator is not opposed to the child tax credit specifically but rather the fuller measure’s construction and price tag.

NBC News also points out there are other, Non-Asshole factors that may simply delay the reconciliation bill to after the new year:

The decision to delay is also in part because Senate Democrats haven’t finished negotiating the bill. Provisions on state and local taxes and the methane rule remain undecided. Senate Democrats also haven’t finished clearing all the procedural hurdles necessary to hold a vote.

That story also mentioned that Manchin got quite huffy when asked if the CTC were the reason for his cold feet, but notice the lack of detail in what he got pissy about:

Asked whether his resistance to the bill was related to the inclusion of child tax credit payments, Manchin told reporters that, "I've always been for child tax credits. We voted for it many times."

"This is bull----," he added. "You're bull----."

Well of course he's for child tax credits, as long as they go back to the far smaller version they took before this year, when they really started helping lots of Americans. We'd love to be wrong about that. Maybe he'll show us just how wrong we are — this is a matter on which we'd be delighted to eat crow.

[WaPo / NBC News / Axios / NYT]

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