In the days following West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s televised announcement that he was pulling the plug on passage of the Build Back Better bill, reports surfaced that the Democratic lawmaker was in the White House, talking about which pieces of the $1.75 trillion social spending and climate package he could support. That’s the route we’ve encouraged for some time.
Build Back Better was supposed to be President Joe Biden’s signature piece of legislation — the modern-day version of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Federal Highway Act — and it included many worthwhile and important programs. Were they able to get the votes, passage of the bill was projected to secure the Biden legacy and provide a much-needed political victory for the Democratic Party in the run up to next year’s midterm elections. But that was not to be. Build Back Better was too big, too burdensome, too expensive — and too hard to pass. Thus, notwithstanding the remarkable cohesiveness of virtually all Democratic senators in support of the bill, the equally cohesive Republicans and the unconvinced Manchin made passage impossible.
None of that was particularly surprising. This political drama was played out publicly in almost daily reports of political maneuvering and posturing on both sides of the debate, with the bill’s proponents unable to overcome accusations of budgetary sleight of hand that was misleading and confusing. And so, Manchin said “no.” But he has also made clear that there are parts of the bill that he can support.
What is needed now is for the Biden administration to seize the opportunity to find meaningful components of the proposed package on which agreement can be reached, package a revised bill and get it passed.
The path toward agreement does not appear all that difficult. For example, Manchin has said that he supports the funding of universal pre-K, a scaled-back version of some climate change spending and some expansion of the Affordable Care Act. But he insists on a level of fiscal honesty that uses real numbers to project program costs and which is mindful of inflation concerns and our mounting national debt. While that won’t bring about the full Build Back Better plan, it can make way for quite a bit of it.
There are already some in the Senate who are trying to do just that. For example, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has suggested a revised, scaled-back version that includes lowering health care costs, prescription drugs for seniors and creating clean energy jobs in the process of combating the climate crisis. He also favors expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which Manchin opposes.
There is plenty of room for compromise, and real opportunity for the Biden administration to build back differently. They should seize the opportunity and take “yes” for an answer while there is still time to get the job done. If they wait too long, enthusiasm will wane, attention will shift to the upcoming midterms and nothing will get done. That would be a shame