President Joe Biden’s climate change and social spending ambitions have been frozen ever since Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) rejected the House’s Build Back Better Act. In an interview, Manchin said his priority is to “fix the tax code.” He has also claimed that he is willing to bypass Republicans and use the filibuster-proof reconciliation process to do so. “It's the reason we have reconciliation. And everyone's talking about everything but that,” Manchin said. “Take care of the debt. $30 trillion should scare the bejesus out of your generation.” $30 trillion (more than that now) is the size of the national debt. Manchin has a staffer text him every morning at 8:30 with an update on the new national debt number, to which he always replies simply: “Thanks.”
Manchin has repeatedly said that Build Back Better, Biden’s $2 trillion-plus bill that passed the House, is dead. Manchin is a crucial vote in the Democrats’ thin Senate majority, and for him, that all new programs must be permanently and fully financed is a non-negotiable.
Though Manchin has said that there are no formal talks happening about a pared-down version of the dead bill, he keeps dropping hints about which policies he believes might be worthy of pursuit. For instance, many believe he would be in favor of certain forms of clean energy, subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, and extending coverage in states that limit Medicaid. Manchin has also said he would be in favor of tax reforms targeted at getting corporations to pay more in taxes, and measures that would result in deficit reduction.
Fellow Senate Democrats are now trying to meet Manchin where he is, and they are beginning to recognize that they will likely need to let go of policies the majority wish to implement if they do not jibe with Manchin’s interests. They cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the better. Many Democrats are even resigned to just letting Manchin write the bill himself, rather than being forced to play detective and try to figure out what he would be willing to vote for. However, there has been no indication that Manchin would even be willing to do that.
“Give him the pen, let him come up with something,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) about Manchin. In the end, this may be the only way for Democrats to get anything passed.