When the Build Back Better Act (BBB) made its way to the Senate last year, an odd trend emerged: Every time West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin would make a clear statement regarding his position on the BBB, the Capitol Hill press corps would respond by ignoring him.
The West Virginia senator has been distributing the document to Democratic colleagues and leaders in recent days to underscore that he has outlined his red lines on President Joe Biden’s jobs and families plan. The one-page understanding is dated July 28, right before the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin helped write and ahead of Senate passage of a budget setting up a spending bill as large as $3.5 trillion….
“Senator Manchin does not guarantee that he will vote for the final reconciliation legislation if it exceeds the conditions outlined in this agreement,” the paper reads in bold text.
Take, for example, the press coverage following Manchin’s comments on the BBB in December. In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, Manchin said:
So when you have these things coming at you the way they are right now, I’ve always said this, Bret, if I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it. And 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. This is a “no” on this legislation.
Pretty clear? Apparently not. As Axios reported:
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is open to reengaging on the climate and child care provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda if the White House removes the enhanced child tax credit from the $1.75 trillion package — or dramatically lowers the income caps for eligible families, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.
Why it matters: The holdback senator’s engagement on specifics indicates negotiations between him and the White House could get back on track, even after Manchin declared he was a “no” on the package on Dec. 19.
There was just one problem. As Manchin told Fox a day later, that account was a complete fabrication:
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told a gaggle of reporters Tuesday that there have been “no conversations” about negotiating with Democratic leadership and President Biden on the massive social spending bill known as the Build Back Better Act.
In January Manchin told members of the press he wanted to see inflation, Covid, and the national debt dealt with first, and then he’d be open to considering some of the BBB policies, but even then it would need to be a fresh start:
Get your financial house in order. Get this inflation down. Get covid out of the way. Then we’ll be rolling…We will just be starting from scratch.
POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook responded by reporting:
Sen. Joe Manchin is “gettable” on a revised Build Back Better package, a key part of the Biden administration’s agenda, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Monday.
“I think he’s gettable. I think we will get him. I think this is going to happen,” Raimondo said during a POLITICO Women Rule interview with Laura Barrón López.
The realization that he still wasn’t getting through to Capitol Hill news outlets evidently led to this exchange last Tuesday:
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was talking to reporters just before lunch about how he was certain that Dems could all find common ground on Build Back Better, specifically name-checking Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Moments later, Insider reporter Joseph Zeballos caught sight of Manchin himself and decided to break away from the Wyden gaggle to ask whether raising the cap on SALT deductions should go in BBB.
Manchin’s response: “What Build Back Better bill? There is no … I mean, I don’t know what y’all are talking about.”
Asked if he is engaged in talks on the bill, Manchin seemed to get a bit peeved: “No, no, no, no. It’s dead.”
Just after 1 p.m., the senator was asked to clarify if he truly meant that BBB is “dead.” He said: “If we’re talking about the whole big package, that’s gone.” Would he mind a smaller version? “We’ll see what people come up with. I don’t know.”
A Roll Call story led with the news, then quickly pivoted to quotes from other senators about how progress was still being made:
Sen. Joe Manchin III said Tuesday he views the bill in its current form as “dead” and wants to tackle other legislative goals first, indicating Democrats aren’t any closer to a deal with the West Virginia centrist on spending provisions than they were weeks ago.
…Schumer said Democrats are “fighting hard” for the bill but declined to say how he’ll move ahead with it. “There are lots of provisions in that bill that are very important — many of which Sen. Manchin supports such as, say, drug pricing,” Schumer said. “So we are continuing to work on it and there are conversations going on between Sen. Manchin and different senators right now.”
And here’s what Tax Notes told its readers:
The chair of the House’s taxwriting committee sees an opportunity for a relaunch of his party’s reconciliation bill following a flap over Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., first saying the legislation was “dead” and then retracting the comment.
But Manchin never retracted his statement, and he’s now used the “dead” word to describe the BBB at least half a dozen times. It has been so bad, even National Review has taken notice, offering up this brilliant parody.
(Note: One outlet that has refrained from BBB happy talk is Punchbowl News. Their reporting has been appropriately skeptical and, as a result, accurate.)
By now readers have hopefully gotten the point: As Senator Manchin says, the BBB is dead. That’s good news for the countless Main Street businesses who have spent the last year stressing over the BBB’s ever-evolving tax hikes and forming elaborate and costly contingency plans should any of them go into effect.
Our recommendation is those owners can shift their attention to the other challenges confronting them – labor shortages, supply chain issues, rising prices. The very challenges Senator Manchin says need to be addressed before he’s prepared to reconsider his position.
Could the bad tax policies included in the BBB reemerge in another vehicle later this year? Yes, they could. That’s why we intend to stay vigilant and continue to build the case as to why the rate hikes and wealth taxes are bad for workers and Main Street alike. As the BBB debate demonstrated, these threats are real, and they are much closer to becoming law than one might expect. Just don’t expect to read about any of that in the Capitol Hill press.