Manchin Gives His Side of the Build Back Better Story
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) faulted White House staff and Democratic leadership for his decision to end negotiations around Build Back Better and accused his party of trying to “badger” him into supporting it.
In a Monday interview on a local West Virginia radio station, the senator told host Hoppy Kercheval that White House staff brought him to his “wit’s end” when they “put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable.” Biden and Manchin had been negotiating the social spending package until the senator went on Fox News and pulled his support on Sunday, to Republicans’ delight. The White House in a statement reacting to Manchin’s Sunday announcement called it an “inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the president.”
In his conversation with Kercheval, Manchin painted himself as standing up to badgering from his party. He and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are the two lone Senate Democratic holdouts on the legislation, which contains the bulk of Biden’s domestic agenda, including efforts to mitigate climate change and expand the social safety net for families and the elderly. “I’m not blaming anybody,” Manchin said. “I knew where they were, and I knew what they could and could not do. They just never realized it because they figured, surely to God, we can move one person sure that we can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough [that] they’ll just say, ‘OK, I’ll vote for anything, just quit.’ ”
He continued, “Well, guess what? I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from, and they can’t just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive. Period.”
Manchin said he outlined his requirements for support clearly over the summer and set a strict $1.5 trillion spending limit with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. But Democrats have stayed above that number, with the latest iteration of the bill passed by the House totaling $2.2 trillion. “I’ve always said I was at $1.5 from the beginning,” Manchin told Kercheval. “I gave Schumer exactly the philosophical beliefs and the amount of money that I thought we could raise in pay for everything. So they’ve had that from day one.”
According to The Washington Post, Manchin did privately propose a $1.8 trillion plan, but it excluded a major Democratic priority: the child tax credit, which Manchin told Kercheval was a sticking point in negotiations. The American Rescue Plan, which passed earlier this year, increased the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for kids younger than 6 and $3,000 for kids aged 6 to 17. It also got rid of a $2,500 earned income requirement and made the credits fully refundable, sending monthly checks from the IRS in the form of advance payments. The last payment, unless Build Back Better or some other legislation extends the credit, went out on Dec. 15. Manchin voted for the American Rescue Plan in March and even touted the increase and lack of income requirement in a press release as one of the ways the act would benefit West Virginians.
When negotiating Build Back Better this past summer, Manchin said he pushed for a work requirement and means testing. “When they first brought the bill out, I said [to] Chuck Schumer, ‘There’s no accountability holding people accountable. There’s no work requirement, there’s no means testing to where you’re targeting the people who really need it,'” the senator said.
Manchin’s self-assessment is a generous one, however, and his emphasis on “accountability” is contradicted by a lot of what we know about how such provisions actually work in practice. Both means testing and work requirements have historically been used to exclude certain vulnerable groups from receiving government benefits, particularly Black families. According to a HuffPost report, Manchin has privately expressed concerns to colleagues that parents would spend the child tax credit funds on drugs. But a Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of Census Bureau data found that the vast majority of low income families (nine out of 10) spent tax credit funds on essential household expenses and education.
According to the Center for American Progress, under Build Back Better’s “far reaching social agenda,” a West Virginia family with two children on a $40,000-per-year income would save almost $10,000 per year on expenses such as health care and child care. With large population of seniors and people with disabilities, the state would disproportionately benefit from investments in home care and community-based services that would also create jobs.