Sen Joe Manchin ("D"-West Virginia) spoke on the phone with President Joe Biden yesterday to discuss moving forward on the Build Back Better reconciliation bill passed by the House of Representatives in November. You might be surprised to learn that even though the overall size of the bill was slashed in order to address complaints from Manchin and from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D?-Arizona), Manchin has now found some very tricksy parts of the pared back legislation that he is not happy with, no not at all. Even so, Senate Dems and the White House remain optimistic that they'll be able to get the package of programs to address climate change and to reform the safety net passed by Christmas, even if they need to deal with a dog in the manger.
The Washington Post reports that Manchin has found several new and continuing matters to complain about. For starters, he says he's not willing to say whether he'll support anything until the Senate version's final legislative text is completed, and that process is still ongoing. For the bill to pass via the reconciliation process, with just 50 votes and VP Kamala Harris's tie-breaker, the Senate parliamentarian has to sign off on all parts of the bill.
The new supposed furrow in Manchin's brow, CNN explains, is that he is suddenly shocked, shocked to learn that in order to slash the Build Back Better package down enough to make it small enough to win at least grudging acceptance from Manchin and Sinema, the bill funds some of its proposals for a year, or a few years. This is a very common bit of alchemy used in reconciliation bills, and doesn't seem at all to be a problem in the US military budget, which funds everygoddamnthing for one year at a time.
Specifically, Manchin is apparently astounded to learn that a new Congressional Budget Office score, compiled at the request of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Opportunism), determined that if you extended all of the spending programs in Build Back Better for a full 10 years, then the total increase in the US deficit would be $3 trillion over 10 years. It's important to note that the new estimate doesn't include any revenue estimates beyond what's actually in the pared-down bill, not even the prospective amounts of new tax revenue that would be generated by more vigorous tax enforcement by the IRS. Essentially, the new estimate, following exactly what Graham asked for, imagines that there's a bill out there that extends all Build Back Better proposals for 10 years, but which neglected to plan for any new revenue. Nobody has proposed such a bill.
What a shocking discovery this is, says Manchin, who claims to be amazed at the "deceptive" planning for a much smaller total package. If you're going to introduce a new program like universal pre-K, expanded child tax credits, or other plans in Build Back Better, well then you should plan them for 10 years out and pay for them for 10 full years. (Not that Manchin would support a fully funded 10-year bill, because look at how pricey it would be!)
This is all a load of bollocks, of course, because the short-term budgeting that's in Build Back Better is mostly there because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema wanted absolutely nothing to do with the full Biden agenda as proposed in the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan. Once some of the physical-infrastructure-only stuff was carved out of those two proposals — at Joe Manchin's insistence, so he could pass a "bipartisan" infrastructure bill with some Republican support — what was left would have cost somewhere around $6 trillion over 10 years, but clearly that wasn't going to get Manchin's support, so instead, congressional Dems settled on a reconciliation proposal that would have cost about $3.5 trillion — again, over 10 years — which would largely be funded by rolling back parts of Donald Trump's 2017 tax cuts.
Let's note how disingenuous Manchin's opposition to the structure of the new spending is. He complained to CNN that it's fundamentally dishonest to start a new program and only fund it for a relatively brief time, which would require Congress to come back in a year or two to pass new funding:
"I don't think that's a fair evaluation of saying we are going to spend X amount of dollars but then we are going to have to depend on coming back and finding more money ... I'm concerned about paying down debt too," he said.
Manchin said the bill should be "within the limits of what we can afford" — and argued that lawmakers should evaluate how much it would cost to extend temporary programs in the bill for 10 years to be "transparent" about the actual price tag of the bill.
Okay then. So let's take a look at how, to meet his own demands, just one program, the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), got whittled down again and again.
In Biden's initial American Families Plan last spring, and in September's House draft of Build Back Better, the expanded CTC would have run through 2025 and would have been funded, like most of the bill, through partial repeal of Trump's tax cuts. Not quite the 10-year timeframe Manchin now says must be calculated, but it was indeed fully paid for.
Ah, but then Kyrsten Sinema insisted we couldn't raise tax rates on corporations, the very richest Americans, or on capital gains at all, and both she and Manchin demanded the topline spending total be slashed roughly in half. The administration negotiated with them some more and announced the slimmed down Build Back Better framework in October, which was quite close to what the House passed last month.
To fit within what's now a roughly $2 trillion top line, the Child Tax Credit extension had to be pared back, so that now instead of continuing — fully paid for — through 2025, it will only be extended a year, in hopes that people would like it and say "More please YES!" and keep Democrats in control of Congress. It's a very popular idea!
But now Joe Manchin doesn't like that the plan he demanded be slashed doesn't include budgeting for a full 10 years. And if it did, it would clearly cost too much even if it included 10 years of new revenues.
Could be he's Very Serious about the budget concerns, could be he's Very Worried about how his own coal-based wealth will be affected by the package's climate provisions, "blind trust" or no.
Honestly, we don't know how the Senate will get Build Back Better past Manchin's latest objections to the very mechanisms he forced to be used in the bill. We're still fairly sure it'll get done, and that no matter how much he tries to be a Republican now, he'll be defeated in 2024 by some rightwinger who calls him a socialist anyway. Welcome to the curse of Interesting Times.
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