What Joe Manchin Wants
January 7, 2022
WE TALKED WITH A SOURCE close to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin yesterday, and came away believing a scaled-back Build Back Better bill can pass by spring.
WHY THE OPTIMISM? Manchin has been vilified by most Democrats for the past few months, and he doesn’t want to be known as the one Senator who cost Joe Biden the House and Senate in this fall’s elections.
MANCHIN KNOWS THAT A DEAL — any deal — could boost the party’s prospects in November, and it would benefit his poverty-stricken constituents. And like most Senators, he still may think about a long-shot scenario: could a moderate Democrat be on the party’s presidential ticket if Biden doesn’t run in 2024? Don’t laugh, they all think that way late at night.
MANCHIN CAN ACCEPT MOST OF THE PROVISIONS in the failed $2 trillion package that crashed and burned in December. In fact, he has privately offered a compromise.
MANCHIN WOULD HAPPILY ACCEPT more funding for universal pre-kindergarten education, an expansion of Obamacare benefits, and a range of environmental proposals — as long as they aren’t negative for West Virginia. He is very skeptical of big federal tax breaks for people who purchase electric cars but Manchin generally accepts higher taxes for the very wealthy and large profitable firms.
THE BIGGEST STUMBLING BLOCK, OF COURSE, is the child tax credit. Democrats greatly expanded the credit last year but that extension is ending, along with its generous monthly checks. A return to a less expensive benefit, not paid monthly, could be an economic headwind as Americans lose a benefit they depended on last year.
MANCHIN WANTS THE TAX CREDIT to be means-tested, and he wants a credible accounting of the costs. In the failed bill, Democrats funded key provisions like this one for only a year, even though they accept a premise that benefits would be extended annually. This gambit would lower the bill’s price-tag, on paper.
THE KEY FACTOR, WE BELIEVE, is whether progressive Democrats can accept half a loaf. We think they don’t have many options; something is better than nothing, especially if the Democrats don’t have control of either house in 2023-24. Why not claim a victory, our source says, and accept what’s do-able now?
THE FATE OF NEGOTIATIONS later this winter will depend on whether there’s an atmosphere of trust. White House officials were furious last month when Manchin announced on a Sunday morning Fox interview that he would not support the bill. Exasperated Democrats say they will now focus on voting reform, but that’s a steep uphill climb. The BBB bill has the sizzle.
BOTTOM LINE: We sense a mood among Democrats to resurrect the talks, and we think Manchin will engage with them. Chances of a $2 trillion-plus package are shaky, but prospects for a bill that costs less — with credible long-term funding — are actually pretty good. If Manchin and Biden can agree on an extension of the expanded child tax credit, a deal could be in sight.
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