US president Joe Biden suffered a blow to his efforts to pass his signature $1.75tn social spending bill, after Joe Manchin, the pivotal Democratic senator from West Virginia, explicitly rejected the package.
“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said on Fox News Sunday, after weeks of intense negotiations with the White House and Democratic congressional leaders. “This is a no,” he added.
Biden last week conceded that the talks on the legislation — which ploughs large-scale investments into the fight against climate change, child care and education — could drag on for weeks, though he still expected to “bridge our differences” with Manchin eventually.
However, Manchin’s remarks suggested that the West Virginia senator would either crush the bill by opposing it completely, or was looking for much more fundamental changes and a shrinking of the legislation.
Manchin, who has long been a thorn in the administration’s side, representing a deeply conservative state, has warned that the bill could raise inflation and increase America’s debt load. These suggestions have been strongly disputed by the White House and other Democrats since the legislation was overwhelmingly offset by tax increases on the wealthy and large companies.
Manchin’s position is so critical because the US Senate is evenly split, with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Biden’s party holds a narrow edge because vice-president Kamala Harris can cast any tiebreaking votes, but for this to happen all Democrats need to support the Build Back Better plan, since it has no Republican backing. BBB has already passed the US House of Representatives.
Failure to pass Biden’s plan would dash the president’s long-held hopes of securing legislation to start remaking the fabric of the domestic US economy — many of the provisions are designed to boost female labour force participation, reduce income inequality, and promote green energy.
It would also have big international ramifications — since a number of provisions are key to meeting America’s goals laid out at the COP26 climate talks as well as negotiations at the OECD for an overhaul of the global corporate tax regime.
With Manchin’s support, Biden has still passed more than $3tn in economic legislation since taking office last January, including a $1.9tn stimulus plan in March, and a $1.2tn infrastructure spending bill passed last month. But the BBB legislation was particularly important to the progressive wing of the Democratic party, and its long purgatory on Capitol Hill risks raising tensions between the White House and Biden’s liberal base.
Bernie Sanders, a key progressive supporter of the bill in the Senate, strongly criticised Manchin on Sunday, demanding that the bill still be put to a vote in the upper chamber.
“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world,” Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, told CNN.
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