WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday he cannot back his party’s signature $2 trillion social and environment bill, seemingly dealing a fatal blow to President Joe Biden’s leading domestic initiative heading into an election year when Democrats’ narrow hold on Congress was already in peril.
Manchin told “Fox News Sunday” that he always has made clear he had reservations about the bill and that now, after five-and-half months of discussions and negotiations, “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation.”
No comment was made by the White House immediately. Biden spent the weekend in Wilmington.
The legislation’s apparent collapse is sure to deepen the bitter ideological divisions within the Democratic Party between progressives and moderates. It would be difficult for Democrats to unite in support of any substantive legislation until the November congressional election. It adds chaos to the mix, just when Democrats must demonstrate achievements and unite before the fall campaign.
It includes massive investments that will help millions of families and children. There’s assistance to help people pay health care costs, new hearing benefits for Medicare recipients and provisions limiting price increases on prescription drugs.
Funds for elderly care, housing and job training are also included. There is more than $500 Billion in tax incentives and spending to curb climate change. It would almost all be covered by higher taxes for the rich and big corporations.
Manchin’s opposition puts it all on hold indefinitely. The West Virginia senator cited several factors weighing on the economy and the potential harm he saw from pushing through the “mammoth” bill, such as persistent inflation, a growing debt and the latest threat from the omicron variant.
“When you have these things coming at you the way they are right now, I’ve always said this … if I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it,” he said.
“I tried everything humanly possible. I can’t do it,” he said. “This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.”
Though Manchin has been Democrats’ main obstacle all year to pushing the massive package through the narrowly divided Congress, his declaration was a stunning repudiation of Biden’s and his party’s top goal. Many considered a rejection of legislation impossible because of its potential political consequences for Democrats.
I-Vt. Sen Bernie Sanders criticised Manchin’s withdrawal of his support. Democratic leaders were urged to present the bill on the floor and for Manchin to vote against it.
“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world, “ Sanders told CNN’s ”State of the Union.”
It is rare for a member of a president’s own party to administer a fatal blow to their paramount legislative initiative. Manchin’s decision called to mind the famous thumbs-down vote by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that killed President Donald Trump’s 2017 effort to repeal the health care law enacted under President Barack Obama.
“Infuriated,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., among the progressives fighting for a more robust Biden bill.
“We’ve had concerns about trusting Joe Manchin throughout the year,” Bowman said by telephone on Sunday. “Manchin is the one that is killing Biden’s agenda.
Even more centrist lawmakers piled on, vowing to keep fighting for Biden’s bill.
“After months of negotiations, one Democratic U.S. The Senator has quit productive negotiations and has now walked out. That is unacceptable, and we cannot act like this moment is the end,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.
Biden almost admitted last week that negotiations on his comprehensive domestic package will likely continue into the new year. The president insisted on Manchin’s support of a framework the senator, White House and other Democrats agreed upon for his flagship bill.
On Sunday, Manchin made clear those were Biden’s words, not his own. The senator criticized fellow lawmakers for a bill that “hasn’t shrunk” after he initially agreed to a $1.5 trillion framework and said social programs must be paid for over 10 years instead of just a few years to win his support, a nonstarter due to cost.
It would be expensive to extend the child tax credit program beyond the 10-year budget window. That would consume most of Biden’s bill, crowding out other key initiatives on health care, child care, education and more.
“We should be up front and pick our priorities,” Manchin said.
Democrats largely dismiss Manchin’s assertions that the bill would fuel inflation and worsen budget deficits. Democrats say it would put money in peoples’ pockets to help them afford rising prices, and that strengthening child care, education and job training would help people get back to work and find better jobs. It would help increase productivity, and employers would be able to fill empty jobs slots. Both of these would keep rising prices in check.
A report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office earlier this month said that if many of the bill’s temporary spending boosts and tax cuts were made permanent, it would add $3 trillion to the price tag. It would cost $5 trillion more over the next 10 years. Democrats have called projections drawn from the Republican-requested study fictitious.
Democrats also note that CBO has estimated that nearly all the costs of this legislation have been paid. Its tax boosts, more aggressive IRS collection of revenue from higher earners and other savings would add around $200 billion to federal deficits over the coming decade, CBO has estimated — a small percentage of the $12 trillion in red ink CBO had already projected.
Lisa Mascaro (AP Congressional Correspondent) contributed to the report.