December 20, 2021

Build Back Better Stalls

Editor's Note: As the year comes to a close and we take stock of all that went well and all that could’ve gone better, it’s worth reflecting on how the news shapes our thinking. Our friends over at Kite & Key Media made a great video outlining the ways in which the media sometimes fell short covering the complex and nuanced stories of 2021. Well worth your time!

“Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday he cannot back his party’s signature $2 trillion social and environment bill… Manchin told ‘Fox News Sunday’ that after five-and-half months of negotiations… ‘I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.’… White House press secretary Jen Psaki called Manchin’s announcement ‘a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position’ and ‘a breach of his commitments’ to Biden and congressional Democrats.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is disappointed with Manchin’s decision.

“This week, the families of 61 million children received their final payments under the expanded Child Tax Credit. This credit has kept 10 million children above the poverty line, but it is expiring as the Senate delays a vote to renew it through the Build Back Better Act. Instead, on the same day these last payments went out, the Senate voted to approve a $778 billion military spending budget — four times as much as the annual cost of the entire Build Back Better plan. Yet we've heard endlessly about how it's Build Back Better that needs to be gutted so we can skimp and save…

“Congress is choosing to spend more on guarding the world’s oil supply (at least $81 billion a year) than on the Build Back Better proposal for fighting climate change ($55 billion a year). Congress is spending more on a single military contractor, Lockheed Martin ($75 billion last year), than on the Build Back Better proposal for preschool and child care ($40 billion a year). Congress has authorized spending an extra $25 billion next year on weapons the Pentagon didn’t even ask for, rather than the $20 billion a year Build Back Better proposal for poverty-busting tax credits for families and workers… Who benefits from these choices?”
Rev. Dr. William Barber II, Lindsay Koshgarian, and Liz Theoharis, Politico

“Let’s be clear: Manchin’s excuses for opposing this bill — which would expand child-care and Medicare benefits, fight climate change and provide other [support] for low-income Americans — are nonsense. ‘If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it,’ he told ‘Fox News Sunday.’ But [some] polls have shown that West Virginians on balance support the BBB, and it would likely help West Virginia more than most states. The idea that Manchin, who’s won statewide election six times, can’t ‘explain’ a popular, useful bill to his constituents is laughable

“The rest of Manchin’s rationalizations aren’t any better. ‘The inflation that I was concerned about — it’s not transitory, it’s real. It’s harming every West Virginian,’ he told Fox News’s Bret Baier. But numerous economists have said the BBB won’t affect inflation. As White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted in an acid statement, the Penn Wharton Budget Model, which Manchin is fond of citing, ‘issued a report less than 48 hours ago that noted the Build Back Better Act will have virtually no impact on inflation in the short term, and, in the long run, the policies it includes will ease inflationary pressures.’ Notably, Manchin did not cite any expert to rebut that view in either his Fox appearance or the statement announcing his stance.”
James Downie, Washington Post

“Although nearly all congressional Democrats had fallen in line with the Build Back Better Act, a small but vocal chorus of outside pundits and policy experts shared Manchin’s view that the House-passed bill spread itself too thin and undercut its own political and substantive goals. The child-care provisions could raise costs for the middle class; red states would ignore funding to expand pre-K programs; the child tax credit, arguably the bill’s most proven anti-poverty measure, was funded for the shortest amount of time. These critics pushed Democrats to jettison elements of their long wish list…  

“The party, they said, should instead focus on proposals—the child tax credit, a bid to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, and a major investment in climate change—that polled the best and were likely to do the most good. Democrats had rebuffed these suggestions, but Manchin’s stance might force them to reconsider.”
Russell Berman, The Atlantic

“[There’s still] the possibility for permanent investments that would be a worthy legacy for any president or member of Congress: a historic reduction in child poverty, an unprecedented investment in climate and ecological sustainability, a couple of popular health investments, an urgently needed program to avert the next pandemic, and a little help around the edges to fill some gaps in education funding…

“Eleven and half years ago, then-Vice President Biden memorably called the ACA ‘a big deal’ (he inserted a present participle adjective). Now Democrats are arguing over a bill that would spend almost twice as much over the next decade as Obamacare did over the last one. There’s no question that even a Manchin-sized version of Build Back Better would also be a pretty big deal.”
Matthew Yglesias, Bloomberg

From the Right

The right applauds Manchin’s decision.

The right applauds Manchin’s decision.

“While we cannot speak to any private assurances [White House Press Secretary Jen] Psaki claims Manchin made to Biden, the West Virginia senator has publicly made his position clear for months, and… the bill in question violated many of the red lines he had drawn

“It was more expensive, was not fully paid for, included accounting ‘gimmicks’ he opposed, allowed for taxpayer funding of abortion, disguised the long-term cost by trillions of dollars by funding many projects for only a few years in hopes they would become permanent, created new programs when the government cannot pay for existing ones, and added to government outlays at a time when inflation is on the rise…

“Contrary to what Psaki said, the actual flip-flop would have been Manchin’s deciding to vote for Build Back Better. In doing so, he would have broken public commitments he made to West Virginians, nearly three-quarters of whom said they wanted him to oppose the bill [according to a recent MBE Research poll].”
The Editors, National Review

“The curious thing is that anybody is surprised… There are three Democratic senators in Trump states. Sherrod Brown has managed to win in 2006, 2012, and 2018 as a pro-labor union leader populist in Ohio (45% Biden, 43% Clinton). Jon Tester has managed to win in 2006, 2012, and 2018 as a rough-hewn rancher who lost fingers in a tractor accident in Montana (41% Biden, 35% Clinton). Both are conviction politicians who have taken some political risk over the years and have managed to win nevertheless…

“Joe Manchin is in a different position. West Virginia gave only 30% of its vote to Joe Biden and only 26% to Hillary Clinton. Discount the Biden percentage a bit, and you have three-quarters of the voters opposing BBB. And over his years as governor and senator, Manchin has not cultivated left-wing positions on economic and fiscal issues like Sherrod Brown or voted lockstep with other Democrats like Jon Tester has. Oh, and by the way, Manchin was reelected by only a 4-point margin in 2018, down from his 61% to 36% win in 2012.”
Michael Barone, Washington Examiner

“Even if something reemerges from the rubble, it is not going to be anything along the lines of the ‘transformational’ type of legislation liberals envisioned earlier in the year. The idea was to augment the role of government in every aspect of individuals’ lives — with subsidized child care, a government takeover of preschool, more financing for college, a more generous Obamacare, and an expanded Medicare. Not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in investments toward the Green New Deal. That magnitude of legislation is no longer in the cards

“Republicans are almost certain to retake control of at least the House next year… So that means the earliest shot Democrats would have to unify control of Washington and have another go at it would be in 2025. However, traditionally, liberals have been able to pass transformational legislation with massive majorities (think of the New Deal and Great Society) and after multiple wave elections (see Obamacare). It’s going to be difficult for Democrats not only to get Biden reelected (or Vice President Kamala Harris) but to do so in convincing enough fashion to pass the sort of sweeping legislation that they want to. And obviously, that won’t be possible if Republicans win in 2024…

“There is a reason why liberals were reaching so high in 2021, attempting to pass historically massive legislation with historically narrow majorities. The reason is that they knew it could be their last opportunity to enact something game-changing for quite a while.”
Philip Klein, National Review

Regarding the White House’s comments on Sunday about the Senator, “This tactic by Biden — while trying to avoid blame for the failure — is the equivalent of blowing up his bridges behind him with Manchin. Biden needs Manchin for any future efforts, and now he’s publicly called him a liar. Why should Manchin ever trust him again after this, especially when he, Manchin, was doing all he could to not flame Biden? We noted how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had extended an invitation to Manchin to join the Republican Party. At this point, the way Biden and some of the Democrats have been trying to stomp all over him, why shouldn’t he?”
Nick Arama, RedState

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