It's Not Just Joe Manchin: Here's What Stands in the Way of Democrats Passing Biden's Social-Spending Bill

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters
  • Democrats have acknowledged the Senate will not vote on the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act this year.
  • To pass President Joe Biden's signature social and climate policy legislation, Democrats will need to win over their own Sen. Joe Manchin, who has raised a range of concerns with the bill.
  • Other obstacles include the Senate parliamentarian, the expert of rules and order, and a dispute over the state and local tax deduction cap.

President Joe Biden's top priority is in limbo.

Senate Democrats have acknowledged they will not try to pass the Biden's House-approved $1.75 trillion social and climate policy legislation this year. In the meantime, they will have to resolve a range of lingering disputes that have flummoxed the party for months.

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Biden "requested more time to continue his negotiations" around the plan, "so we will keep working with him hand in hand to bring this bill over the finish line." The New York Democrat had wanted to pass the legislation before Christmas.

Biden indicated Thursday night that a vote wouldn't take place until January, at the earliest. He said Democrats will "advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead," and that he and Schumer "are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible."

Many Democrats see the legislation as the key to boosting working families and showing voters they can govern before the 2022 midterms. But to check this top priority off their list, they need to resolve the following outstanding issues:

  • The party has not won over Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia. In the 50-50 Senate, he can sink the bill on his own, because every Republican opposes it.
  • Manchin, who drove Democrats to cut the bill's price tag in half to $1.75 trillion, has expressed concerns about spending and inflation. The senator has denied reports that he opposes a one-year extension of the enhanced child tax credit — a piece in the House-passed bill that Democrats view as critical to reducing child poverty. The strengthened child tax credit passed earlier this year expires at the end of the month.
  • Manchin has criticized his party for using 10 years of revenue-raising measures to fund a bundle of programs that in some cases last just a few years or less. Changes to that structure could require a massive rewrite of the bill. Biden and Manchin held talks this week on the matter, and the president said Thursday those discussions will continue next week.
  • Appeasing Manchin alone will not get the job done for Democrats, who also need to keep centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona happy. She favors more clean-energy programs than Manchin and opposed a hike in the corporate tax rate.
  • If the Senate makes any changes to the bill, the legislation will have to go back to the House for another vote. That could be problematic if progressives there feel too many concessions have been made to Manchin and Sinema. Speaker Nancy Pelosi can only afford to lose three Democratic votes.
  • The Senate parliamentarian, the expert in rules and order, also has to make a final ruling on what Democrats can include in their bill under the budget reconciliation process, which allows them to bypass GOP opposition to the plan. The party had one setback on Thursday when the parliamentarian ruled it could not include limited legal protections for millions of undocumented immigrants in the bill. In a joint statement Thursday, Schumer and five other Democratic senators said they will "pursue every means to achieve a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better Act."
  • Democrats still have to craft a compromise over state and local tax deductions. The House lifted the cap on those deductions to $80,000 from $10,000 as part of its version of the bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., among others, have looked for a way to revise the policy, which would currently disproportionately benefit wealthy taxpayers.

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