Sen. Joe Manchin declared Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s vast social and environment bill is “dead,” using his strongest language to date to underscore that any revival of Democrats’ top domestic priorities would have to arise from fresh negotiations.
The remarks by the West Virginia Democrat didn’t substantively alter the stance he’d taken in December, when he said he couldn’t support the legislation as written, essentially dooming it. But his latest comments illustrated the election-year challenges facing his party as it struggles to resuscitate parts of the package and win over voters weary of the two-year-old pandemic and coping with the worst inflation in decades.
“What Build Back Better bill?” Manchin said Tuesday, using the legislation’s name, when reporters asked about it. “There is no, I mean, I don’t know what you’re all talking about.” Asked if he’d had any talks about it, he added, “No, no, no no. It’s dead.”
Manchin has repeatedly said he remains open to talks aimed at crafting a smaller bill that could include its provisions aimed at reducing carbon emissions, creating free pre-Kindergarten programs and increasing federal health care subsidies. But he has said negotiations have yet to begin.
That lack of activity, along with Biden’s dismal approval rating in polls, has prompted Democratic worries that the effort could fade away.
“I’m open to talk to everybody, always have been,” he said Monday. “I just want to make sure we find a balance and something we can afford, and do it and do it right.”
And while he expressed support for the original bill’s provisions bolstering renewable energy, he said he also wants to “use all the fossil industry in the cleanest, absolute possible versions that you can.” Manchin’s state is a significant coal producer and he has added clout on the issue as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
In December, Manchin’s abrupt announcement of his opposition to the 10-year, roughly $2 trillion measure, which had already passed the House, snuffed out its prospects in the Senate. His party needs his vote to prevail in that chamber, where every Republican opposes the legislation but Vice President Kamala Harris can vote to break ties.
Manchin, perhaps his party’s most conservative senator, has said the bill could further fuel inflation, is too expensive and finances too many programs.
Other Democrats say the measure would help families handle rising costs by bolstering the federal aid they get for health care and education costs, and its expanded child care assistance would help many people return to work. They also note that the bill would largely pay for itself by raising taxes on big corporations and high-income people.