Democratic leaders are racing to bring up President Joe Biden's massive social welfare and green energy spending bill as soon as next week, even though a key centrist in their party is not on board.
Party leaders Friday upped the urgency for passing the $1.85 trillion measure after the United States reported the November inflation rate had risen to 6.8%, the highest level since 1982.
They argued the legislation will actually work to lower inflation, defying critics who say the massive bill will only increase it further.
BIDEN AGENDA IMPERILED BY 39-YEAR HIGH IN INFLATION AND ROUGH CBO SCORE
“Today’s consumer price index data makes clear: If we want to fight inflation and lower costs, the best thing we can do is to pass Build Back Better,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said, responding to the inflation report.
The accelerating inflation rate is likely to make it even harder to win over Sen. Joe Manchin, who is poised to become the deciding Democratic vote in the quest to pass Build Back Better ahead of the holidays.
Democrats control only 50 votes, and every party lawmaker must vote for the legislation in order for Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie.
But the West Virginia centrist this week appeared to be in no hurry to speed up consideration of the measure, despite pledges from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass the bill by Christmas.
Manchin warned he wants “major changes” in the legislation and is worried the new round of massive spending will only aggravate the nation’s historic inflation levels.
Rising food and energy prices have affected West Virginians, Manchin said, and he signaled he’s not buying the latest claim that the bill would reduce inflation.
“I don't know how you control inflation when the first year of spending is going to be quite large,” Manchin said this week. “And that's an awful lot more of federal dollars going into a time when we have uncertainty and inflation now at 6.2%, maybe going higher.”
Manchin last week showed reporters a card that listed legislation passed by Congress since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It pumped more than $6 trillion into the economy, more than the cost of World War II, he pointed out.
The measure would create a broad array of new government programs and subsidies, much of it aimed at childcare and healthcare. Another major portion of the legislation would implement new green energy policies, including a methane fee that analysts say will raise natural gas prices by double digits.
In a statement Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, called the bill “the most significant cost-cutting and inflation-fighting measure in recent history.”
The bill would provide a yearlong extension of the child tax credit, free childcare and preschool for many families, and a month of paid family and medical leave.
But Republicans are countering with their own messaging on the legislation, arguing it would add to the deficit and make it harder to replenish the workforce.
Manchin may be even more reluctant to back the bill now that the Congressional Budget Office has calculated the cost of the bill if the programs in it are made permanent.
The CBO, which produced the report at the GOP’s request and released the results on Friday, found the bill would add $3 billion to the deficit over 10 years if programs did not sunset as many predict they won't.
Democrats downplayed the report. Pelosi called it “imaginary,” while Schumer said the numbers produced by the nonpartisan agency are “fake.”
The House passed its version of the legislation last month. The Senate will make changes and, if they can pass it, send it back to the House for approval before it ends up on Biden’s desk.
Schumer has not yet announced when he’ll bring the bill to the floor, even though Christmas is now only two weeks away.
Manchin has criticized several significant provisions in the bill, among them paid family leave, raising the property tax deduction cap, and anti-fossil fuel policies.
Democrats are also battling the Senate parliamentarian, who is scrubbing the bill for provisions that do not meet special rules that will allow the party to pass the bill with 51 votes instead of the usual 60. Among the provisions that could be cut from the bill is language legalizing millions of workers now living here illegally.
Schumer pledged to bring the bill to the floor as soon as the parliamentarian finished analyzing the measure.
"We want to get it done by Christmas, OK?" Schumer impatiently told reporters Tuesday, without taking any follow-up questions about the schedule.
Rank-and-file Democrats appear less optimistic about the Christmas deadline.
Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, brushed it off in a Fox News interview, suggesting it could take longer to pass the bill.
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“I think negotiations continue on several fronts working to get this bill to a point where we could potentially get it passed before Christmas,” Tester said. “But I don't think the timeline is what's important. I think what's important is what is in it.”