Senate Democrats hope to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” legislation by Christmas, but they have yet to secure the approval of Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia centrist who opposes significant parts of the bill.
Manchin suggested to reporters this week that the social welfare and green energy legislation that Democrats hope to pass this month and tout on the campaign trail in 2022 can’t pass the Senate by Christmas despite pledges by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that this can happen.
“There’s an awful lot there and a lot of changes to be done at a time when it’s very vulnerable in our economy,” Manchin told reporters in the Capitol.
Manchin signaled the legislation’s impact on inflation is a top concern. Rising food and energy prices have affected West Virginians, Manchin said, and he’s doubtful of the latest Biden administration claims that Build Back Better will reduce inflation.
“I don't know how you control inflation when the first year of spending is going to be quite large,” Manchin said. “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.”
Schumer, a New York Democrat, met last week with Manchin on energy provisions in the legislation but did not disclose the details of the discussion.
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Democrats want Build Back Better to implement major green energy policy changes that will aggressively steer the nation away from fossil fuels, among them a methane fee that will raise natural gas prices by double digits.
Schumer on Tuesday called the provisions “long-overdue steps to fight the climate crisis,” and he blamed climate change for wildfires, floods, and storms.
But Manchin is seeking changes to the green energy provisions, arguing climate change was addressed in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Biden signed into law last month. That measure included $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and billions more for mass transit and rail.
Manchin called for any additional climate legislation to weigh both the environment and the economy in order to win his support and suggested the Build Back Better bill goes too far on green energy policy.
“If you're looking for a balance, we'll find a balance,” Manchin said. “If you're looking to weigh it one way or the other, you have it more difficult.”
Manchin is also opposed to a plan to provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave, which he said should be negotiated separately and passed with cooperation from Republicans.
Just one Democrat can sink the bill in the Senate, which is evenly split.
Schumer is negotiating with the Senate parliamentarian on meeting special requirements that will allow Democrats to pass the measure with only 51 votes instead of the usual 60 votes.
Vice President Kamala Harris could cast the tiebreaking vote, but only if all 50 Democrats, including Manchin, vote for the bill.
As of now, Manchin is not on board.
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“I have concerns,” Manchin said. “We are talking about making major changes in our tax code, talking about a major overhaul of our social reforms, and we’re talking about a tremendous overhaul of our climate positions. And we’ve done an awful lot on clean climate with the infrastructure bill.”
Schumer on Tuesday touted the broad array of new government programs and subsidies in the legislation, which include free preschool for many families and $300 monthly checks, as well as lower prescription drug prices for seniors.
“We are going to continue working to get these things done before the Christmas holiday,” Schumer pledged.