Joe Manchin: Is there a version of Biden’s economic plan that he can support?

“I guess not, Mr President,” Grassley replied, concluding the negotiations.

Is Senator Joe Manchin now returning to Grassley’s role in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan? If that is the case – if nothing can ultimately get the West Virginia Democrat to “yes” – then more coaxing is a waste of time. The law cannot pass without him.

But the White House and party leaders, believing they cannot afford to fail, remain hopeful that Manchin’s vote can be won. It means exploring ways to reshape Biden’s plan to meet the senator’s objections.

In theory, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

Like the president, Manchin agrees that an acceptable package could spend $ 1.75 trillion over 10 years. Before his explosive pre-Christmas announcement of his opposition to the House version of the massive tax and spending bill that would expand the nation’s social safety net, he handed Biden a $ 1.8 trillion version of dollars.

That’s about half of the president’s original proposal, but other Congressional Democrats have made it clear they can accept the cut. The challenge is figuring out how to spend it.

As they slashed the price last year, House Democrats decided not to remove many programs from Build Back Better. Instead, they funded them only for part of the 10-year period used in budget legislation, believing that a subsequent Congress would not let the money run out.

Manchin complains that the “gimmick” obscures the real long-term cost of the plan. He prefers to reject some proposals and fully fund the remaining ones.

It would hurt Democratic unions and social service constituencies that crave more money. Still, $ 1.75 trillion could still fund the top priorities Democrats seem to agree on.

Defending his charcoal-producing state, Manchin considers certain Build Back Better proposals to improve climate change to be unduly punitive. But he insists he supports most of the climate provisions in the bill. In total, they cost $ 550 billion.

Manchin is also supporting new grants to help parents get child care and preschool education for 3 and 4 year olds. Funding these parts of Build Back Better on an ongoing basis, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, costs $ 752 billion.

Manchin also did not object to additional financial assistance for Americans seeking health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (which Congress finally passed in March 2010 without Grassley’s backing). Permanent funding of these Build Back Better arrangements, according to the CBO, would cost $ 428 billion.

A bill with these elements – on climate change, child care, preschool and Obamacare – would represent a major step forward for Democratic priorities. And the cumulative cost of $ 1.73 trillion would match Manchin’s compromise budget.

Of course, this list omits hundreds of billions of other Biden proposals, including money to expand the housing supply, increase the wages of home health workers, add hearing benefits under the health insurance and increase the earned income tax credit for adults without children.

More politically precarious, it also omits the Build Back Better provision that many Democrats appreciate the most: an expanded child tax credit that analysts say cuts child poverty by 40%. Manchin says too much of the money – over $ 1,000 billion over 10 years if funded permanently – would be wasted on undeserving beneficiaries.

Yet a tiny fraction of that investment would deliver much of the benefits Democrats are looking for.

For $ 50 billion over 10 years, the Liberal Center for Budgetary and Political Priorities projects, Congress could reduce child poverty by 20% without even increasing the maximum child tax credit this administration inherited from President Donald Trump. The reduction would come from making the pre-Biden credit “fully refundable” – available even to parents who don’t earn enough to generate federal tax liabilities.

This is something Manchin opposes, insisting that he gives some unemployed parents money to spend on drugs rather than their children. But if other Democrats could persuade him to compromise, adding the child tax credit rebate would partially meet their priority while leaving the cost of a revised Biden plan below $ 1.8 trillion. dollars.

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Manchin also fears that Build Back Better spending will widen the budget deficit and exacerbate inflation. But deficit hawks on the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget say Biden has specified more than $ 2 trillion in good faith funding sources, while economists on both sides envision the bill to have negligible inflationary impact. .

In other words, a hypothetical set in this sense would seem to meet Manchin’s concerns. The question is whether his expressed objections can be taken at face value.

In the 2020 election, Trump beat Biden in West Virginia by 39 percentage points – a larger margin than anywhere else except Wyoming. With a coal-loving constituency like this, maybe Manchin – like Grassley on Obama’s health care plan – just can’t bring himself to push Biden’s economic and climate agenda beyond. the finish line.
That didn’t stop him, however, from joining the party line’s vote to adopt Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion US bailout last March. The next few weeks will tell if the White House and Democratic leaders can make this happen again.

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