Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.), who has spent months outlining various reasons why he does not support President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, said on Sunday that he does not support Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan.
“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t,” Manchin told Fox News in an interview. “This is a ‘no’ on this legislation.”
In case anyone was still confused about where Manchin stands, the senator also released a lengthy statement helpfully explaining why he was driving the final nail into a proposal that has never enjoyed support from a majority of the U.S. Senate.
“My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face. I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hard-working American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores, and utility bills with no end in sight,” Manchin said in that statement. He also pointed to the fact that the Congressional Budget Office says the bill would cost far more if many of its temporary provisions are made permanent, and accused the bill’s supporters of trying “to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill.”
Congress is the sort of place where what is dead may never die, and there will almost certainly be attempts to resurrect parts of the “Build Back Better” plan next year or later. By Sunday night, Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) had already released a slimmed-down version of the proposal. But the White House’s response to Manchin’s comments on Sunday suggests that the negotiating well has been poisoned for now.
The “Build Back Better” plan has gone through several iterations this year. The current form is a $1.75 trillion package—though, as Manchin notes, the actual cost is more than double that when budget gimmicks are ignored—that would greatly expand the size of government to help defer the cost of child care, health care, and living in states with high taxes. It passed the House last month in a party-line vote.
It’s certainly fair to point out—as some progressives have—that Manchin’s fiscal conservatism is applied somewhat unevenly. Manchin was one of the 88 senators to vote last week in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets the Pentagon’s budget at $770 billion next year. Even without any future increases—and those will definitely happen, no matter which party controls Washington—that means the Pentagon is on pace to receive about $7.7 trillion over the next decade.
Yes, it would be preferable for Manchin to apply this level of scrutiny to all spending decisions. Heck, it would be preferable for everyone in Congress (and the media) to scrutinize routine, recurring spending as closely as they’ve watched the crafting of the “Build Back Better” plan.
But Manchin’s opposition to Biden’s spending plan has been consistent for months. The Biden administration and its allies have done virtually nothing to address his primary objections: that the bill will add to America’s unsteady pile of debt, and that its true cost is being hidden by gimmicks.
Still, Manchin’s comments on Sunday set off the expected unhinged reactions. Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post‘s nominally conservative columnist, declared democracy to be “hanging by a thread”—even though this seems like a pretty clear-cut example of the majority getting its way. Perhaps the true lesson here is that enacting sweeping policy changes with the smallest possible Senate majority, as Democrats are trying to do, is pretty difficult. That’s by design!
Let’s be clear about this. The “Build Back Better” plan’s apparent demise is not the result of a breakdown in the democratic process or deliberate sabotage by the senator from West Virginia. What’s been lacking for months is an affirmative case for the bill’s passage that could convince 50 senators plus the vice president to support it. There was no moment in this entire year when the plan, in all its various forms and permutations, had the support of a simple majority of the U.S. Senate—the bare minimum required to pass bills into law.
In short, what Manchin said on Sunday didn’t doom Biden’s huge domestic spending plan. It was never anything but doomed. Manchin merely provided some closure.