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Manchin: ‘I Cannot Vote To Move Forward’ on Build Back Better Act

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., leaves his office after speaking with President Joe Biden about his long-stalled domestic agenda, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. Manchin is a pivotal Democratic vote on passage of the president's top legislative priority. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

CHARLESTON — Dropping a bombshell on President Joe Biden and Democratic colleagues after months of negotiations, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday he could not support the President’s pricey social spending bill at this time.

In a statement released Sunday morning, Manchin said he could not support the Build Back Better Act, an omnibus bill of social spending programs that started out at $6 trillion before eventually getting paired down between $1.75 trillion and $2.2 trillion.

“I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.’ Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation,” Manchin said.

The statement came after Manchin appeared on Fox News Sunday to make the announcement and further explain his reasoning.

“This is a mammoth piece of legislation and I had reservations from the beginning when I heard about it 5½ months ago,” Manchin said to host Bret Baier. “I’ve been working diligently every minute of every day working on this…but I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible, but I can’t get there.”

The Build Back Better Act is a conglomeration of social spending plans laid out by President Biden over the last nine months, including items from the American Families Plan Biden proposed last spring and items that were excluded from the American Jobs Plan, which morphed into the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework). Build Back Better also includes a continuation of programs from last March’s American Rescue Plan.

The version of Build Back Better that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month had a nearly $2 trillion price tag, including billions for national universal pre-kindergarten, childcare and paid family leave, healthcare and elder care, affordable housing and prescription drug price negotiation for Medicare.

Build Back Better included billions more for climate change and clean energy funding, such as tax breaks for renewable energy, electric vehicles and new clean-energy technologies and manufacturing. It also included a $150 billion incentive plan to encourage electric providers to move away from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Build Back Better also would charge fees for methane emissions.

The bill passed the House with a simple majority, but the bill was going through the budget reconciliation process in the U.S. Senate, which allows certain bills to pass without needing a 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster.

In a Senate split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, negotiations with Manchin are crucial to getting Build Back Better passed, though West Virginia’s senior and only Democrat in Congress has frequently expressed concerns about Build Back Better’s true costs, its effects on the national deficit and inflation, and the bill’s incentives for moving the nation away from fossil fuels too soon.

“My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face,” Manchin said. “I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hard-working American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores and utility bills with no end in sight.”

The price for Build Back Better started at $6 trillion, coming down to $3.5 trillion before passing the House at a cost of $1.85 trillion. However, a report from the independent Congressional Budget Office found that if some of Build Back Better’s temporary programs were made permanent over a 10-year period, the bill would add $3 trillion to the deficit and put the true cost of the bill at $4.5 trillion.

“The American people deserve transparency on the true cost of the Build Back Better Act,” Manchin said. “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined the cost is upwards of $4.5 trillion which is more than double what the bill’s ardent supporters have claimed. They continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill.”

Negotiations between Manchin, the White House, and Democratic colleagues continued until the end of the week, with a Manchin spokesperson saying Wednesday that conversations continued to be productive. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wanted to see Build Back Better pass the Senate by the end of the year, though the Senate wrapped up work early Saturday morning before recessing.

“I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address the needs of all Americans and do so in a way that does not risk our nation’s independence, security and way of life,” Manchin said.

The announcement drew a strong rebuke from the White House. Press secretary Jen Psaki called Manchin’s announcement “a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position,” according to an Associated Press report. She added that Manchin had “in person” provided Biden a written proposal last Tuesday that was “the same size and scope of a framework for the bill that Democrats backed in October, which had a 10-year costo of $1.85 trillion.

“We will continue to press (Manchin) to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word,” Psaki said.

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