US President Joe Biden’s much touted pandemic recovery initiative, Build Back Better, may face defeat due to opposition from members of his own party. Democratic Party Senator Joe Manchin went on Fox News on Sunday December 19 to announce that he “cannot vote” for the widely popular Build Back Better Act.
If passed, the Act would usher in changes that would be transformative in the lives of many working class people in the US, such as free pre-school education, an extension of the soon to expire Child Tax Credits received by families under the American Rescue Plan, sweeping climate change reforms, and other much needed social spending reforms.
In order to pass this bill, Biden and the Democratic Party have been attempting to use a process called budget reconciliation, which requires at least 51 out of 100 Senate votes. Republicans across the board have refused to vote for this bill, but Democrats hold 51 out of 100 Senate seats. In theory, the solution is a simple one.
However, the bill has been stalled for weeks due to the opposition of right wing Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both are publicly citing concerns regarding the price tag of the Build Back Better plan and were already victorious in gutting key elements of the original bill.
On Sunday during his interview on Fox News, Manchin expressed his worries regarding recent inflation and how he would justify the bill to his constituency, lamenting that he couldn’t “explain [Build Back Better] to the people of West Virginia.” Not mentioned was the fact that both Manchin and Simena have recently received millions from Republican and corporate donors, some of whom praised their efforts against the bill.
This decision was an unwelcome surprise to many in the Democratic Party. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Manchin’s announcement is “at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances.”
Progressive politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, and Pramila Jayapal had long feared that Manchin would not vote for Build Back Better unless it was paired with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF), which Manchin supported. BIF and Build Back Better were initially linked, only to be separated under pressure from moderate politicians and an assurance from President Biden himself that he’d secure Manchin’s vote.
Manchin has come under fire from progressive organizations and lawmakers for his glaring conflicts of interest. The Senator has become the key decision maker on whether or not Congress passes what the White House calls “the largest effort to combat climate change in American history”, yet he himself reportedly owns millions of dollars in coal company stock. The transition away from coal is a key priority of nations seeking to curb their CO2 emissions. Furthermore, Manchin’s net worth is $7.6 million, yet he is tasked with representing one of the poorest states.
One of the biggest incongruencies lies beyond Manchin at the individual level, and rather is at heart of US policy making: the mammoth military budget. With a 89 to 10 majority in the Senate, Congress recently passed a whopping $778 billion military budget. Manchin, despite citing budgetary concerns as a key reason for vetoing Build Back Better, voted yes on this budget.
This setback of the Build Back Better plan is worrisome to many in the US who are relying on government assistance due to the ongoing pandemic. However, the bill maintains massive popularity among people in the US, along with the social democrat and progressive politicians fighting for it. Labor unions such as the AFL-CIO and the United Mine Workers of America have urged Manchin to reconsider.