In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden called for the resurrection of several Build Back Better (BBB) policies, including government-financed childcare, paid family leave, and in-home healthcare. Several Senate Democrats are pushing for such a package, but are again facing opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.).
In December 2021 Manchin, after months of negotiation with the White House and other Democrats, announced that he would not support the $1.85 trillion draft of the BBB over concerns about continually-rising inflation. In the equally-divided Senate, where all 50 Republicans opposed the bill, the announcement struck a killing blow to the BBB.
Still, some Democrats have continued to work behind the scenes toward a revival of the BBB’s key spending programs. On Feb. 1 Manchin, having grown frustrated with continued interest in the bill, told reporters that BBB “is dead.”
Manchin did not commit to voting for a smaller bill, but since his rejection of the $1.85 trillion package, Manchin has indicated that he is open to a smaller, more-focused bill.
Following Biden’s March 1 address, Manchin suggested that Democrats pass a more economically-grounded bill to reform the tax code and increase federal revenue. From the excess revenue generated, Manchin suggested that Democrats choose a single program to focus on—like childcare, family leave, or in-home healthcare—and put the rest toward prescription drug reform and fighting inflation.
The suggestion is an olive branch from Manchin to the rest of his party, which has little chance of passing any spending bill without Manchin’s vote. But for several Senate Democrats, Manchin’s proposal is too small.
“If he wants to focus on an economic package, then he needs to remember childcare is an economic issue,” said progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “We have many, many, many parents at home today because they cannot get child care. We have people who can’t work in the child care industry because they don’t make a living wage.”
“If we want to have an economy that’s firing on all cylinders, we want people to be able to go back to work,” she continued.
Warren also argued that more government spending in the childcare sector would reduce inflation.
“When you don’t have enough workers, then prices go up,” she explained.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) similarly opined that government spending would serve to lessen inflation. Democrats’ spending policies in BBB, Murray said, “are all part of dealing with inflation.”
She added, “What I feel very strongly is that Congress needs to address some of the costs that families are feeling today. Child care is a huge part of that and it is a barrier for people to be able to go back to work so they can support their families in this challenging time.”
Manchin rejected the argument.
“I’ve never found out that you can lower costs by spending more,” Manchin told reporters when asked about the claim.
Speaking on the individual policies put forward by Biden and other Democrats, Manchin said, “It just keeps adding up and up. To me, it’s all about inflation.”
“Inflation is the No. 1 enemy we have in America today,” he added.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a progressive icon who has often squabbled with Manchin over policy issues and who has openly indicated that he would support a primary challenger against Manchin, said that he has given no attention to Manchin’s gesture.
“I don’t care what he wants,” Sanders told reporters. “I’m talking about bringing forward the legislation the American people want. He doesn’t like it he can vote against it or vote for it. That’s his business.”
Democrats are quickly running out of time to pass any spending package.
Several Senate Democrats are moving into tough midterm battles and will have substantially less time to invest in legislation when the campaign season gets underway.
Republicans are widely expected to take control of the House in November as well. If Republicans take either chamber of Congress, Democrats will likely find themselves facing even stricter limits than those offered by Manchin.