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Build Back Better Again? Not If Joe Manchin Is The Decider



Although that was Joe Biden stumbling through his first State of the Union address last night, it could have almost been Joe Manchin. Manchin killed Build Back Better, the legislation that would have won the midterms for the Democrats and would have cemented Biden's place in history. So Biden didn't ever say the phrase, although he did talk about some of the pieces he would still like to see Congress pass as part of a filibuster-proof reconciliation package-- meaning with Manchin's (and crackpot Kyrsten Sinema's) consent.


Biden zipped through his laundry list of Democratic base-pleasing components: lowering drug prices, paid leave, raising the minimum wage, free community college, the child tax credit, fair taxation, affordable housing, universal preschool... a reminder of what Manchin and Sinema have wrecked (not to mention the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act). If that stuff excites voters, members of Congress (and Republicans) are more excited by things he mentioned like "fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities" and "secure the border and fix the immigration system.” He's always been a Republican-lite kind of Democrat-- since he switched his voter registration back in the early '70s and "became" a Democrat.


Last night, right after Biden's SOTU address, Alexander Bolton reported that Manchin "poured cold water" on Biden's hopes for reviving the core elements of his Build Back Better agenda. Very cold water.


“They just can’t help themselves,” Manchin quipped when asked by reporters after Biden’s State of the Union speech whether he was surprised by the president’s effort to try to use the moment to try to revive his stalled climate and social spending plan.
“I don’t know where that came from,” he joked.
“Nothing’s changed,” he said.
“There might be parts they want to talk about. I don’t know. That was a little bit far,” he added, referring to the list of expensive Build Back Better items that Biden tried to put back on the table Thursday evening.
Manchin also sounded skeptical about Biden’s claim that his Build Back Better plan will fight inflation by lowering costs.
“I’ve never found out that you can lower costs by spending more,” he said.

Mitt Romney, who, like Manchin, exclusively rep[resents that top 1%, enthusiastically agree. "Biden," wrote Bolten, "tried to appeal to Manchin... by arguing that his agenda will help offset the impact of rising prices by lowering the costs of middle-class families. 'One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation. Lower your costs, not your wages,' he said. 'Seventeen Nobel laureates in economics say my plan will ease long-term inflationary pressures. Top business leader and most Americans support my plan,' he declared. "


But not Manchin. Bolten wrote he "appears more interested in working with Republicans on bipartisan legislation than on trying to revive the Build Back Better Act."


This afternoon Politico published a piece by Burgess Everett and Nicholas Wu about what Manchin claims he'll support-- and not support. And a warning: when asked "whether he thinks his party finally understands his parameters for joining the talks, he said that Democrats 'know where I am. They just basically think that I’m going to change.'"


In an interview this afternoon, the West Virginia centrist laid out a basic party-line package that could win his vote, lower the deficit and enact some new programs, provided they are permanently funded. It may be Democrats’ best and last chance to get at least some of their biggest domestic priorities done before the midterm elections, but would require everyone in the party-- particularly liberals-- to concede that what’s possible doesn’t come close to the $1.7 trillion package Manchin spurned in December.
Manchin said that if Democrats want to cut a deal on a party-line bill using the budget process to circumvent a Republican filibuster, they need to start with prescription drug savings and tax reform. He envisions whatever revenue they can wring out of that as split evenly between reducing the federal deficit and inflation, on the one hand, and enacting new climate and social programs, on the other-- “to the point where it’s sustainable.”
“If you do that, the revenue producing [measures] would be taxes and drugs. The spending is going to be climate,” Manchin said.
“And the social issues, we basically have to deal with those” afterward, he added.
...[Many, though not all] progressives are willing to entertain just about whatever they can get through with only 50 Senate Democrats and a slim House majority. After all, the midterms are now eight months away; recreating the momentum to put a big bill on the floor may take months.
“We just have to fish or cut bait on reconciliation. Enough of this,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). there’s so much that we all agree on, that we ought to be able to get a deal, get it together and get it done”

Rashida Tlaib delivered a 15 minute response to Biden's address on behalf of the Working Families Party. "We showed," she said, "how our government can be in the service of the working class majority, not just the wealthy few." Less than 2 minutes in and-- had he been listening-- she would have instantly lost Manchin, Sinema and any stray Republicans, all of whom are representing "just the wealthy few." That's how they see their jobs.


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