(The Hill) – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced on “Fox News Sunday” that he will not vote for President Biden’s “mammoth” climate and social spending bill, essentially killing the White House’s top legislative priority.
“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” he told guest host Bret Baier. “This is a no on this legislation.”
He said he had worked “diligently” on the bill, meeting with Biden, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other colleagues to find a way forward, but he added that he remains extremely concerned about inflation, the $29 trillion federal debt and a surge in new infections caused by the omicron variant of COVID-19.
“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 to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it,” he said. Manchin said Biden knew that he had serious concerns about how the 2,000-plus-page bill was shaping up. “He knows that I’ve had concerns and the problems I’ve had,” he said. “The thing we should all be directing our attention toward is the variant of COVID we have coming back at us in so many different aspects and different ways. It’s affecting our lives again.”
Manchin also warned that rising inflation could “really harm a lot of Americans,” especially lower-income or impoverished Americans.
“So I think that’s where our attention needs to be directed toward immediately,” he said.
Manchin’s definitive statement opposing the bill comes as a surprise to fellow Senate Democrats who expected that talks between the West Virginia centrist and Biden would continue this week.
Biden in a statement last week said that Manchin had “reiterated his support” for spending $1.75 trillion on the Build Back Better bill, pledging that “we will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead.”
But Manchin distanced himself from that optimistic statement at the end of last week, telling reporters it was Biden’s and not his.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement early Sunday afternoon that Manchin’s reversal was sudden — and that he went back on a framework that he presented to Biden just last week that the White House believed “could lead to a compromise acceptable to all.”
“If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate,” Psaki said in a statement.
“Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word,” she said.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who on Friday told The Hill that he thought Manchin could be convinced to support the legislation, on Sunday said he wants to force his colleague to vote against it.
“We’ve been dealing with Mr. Manchin for month after month after month. But if he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, slammed Manchin in a statement.
“Walking away from BBB [Build Back Better] is essentially ignoring the crises in front of us that demand action. It’s the height of irresponsibility and betrayal,” she said.
Manchin said he had a major problem with Democratic colleagues setting early sunsets for popular items such as the enhanced child tax credit to keep the overall cost of the bill at around $2 trillion. He argued that would have masked the true impact of the bill on the deficit and debt.
“Everyone still has the aspirational things they want to do,” he said. “They say, ‘Can we still make this fit? We’ll just cut it down to two years versus 10 years. We’ll cut this one to four years versus 10 years or one year versus 10 years.'”
“That’s not being genuine as far as I’m concerned with my constituents in West Virginia,” he said.
Manchin noted that a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the bill requested by Senate Republicans showed that Build Back Better would cost more than $4.5 trillion over the next decade if all its provisions were renewed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who asked the CBO score to score the full cost of the bill if its provisions were extended over 10 years, applauded Manchin’s announcement.
“I very much appreciated Sen. Manchin’s decision not to support Build Back Better, which stems from his understanding of the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the bill,” he said Sunday.
Manchin reiterated many of the points he made on Fox in a statement released shortly after his appearance.
“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,” he said.
“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,” he added. “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.”
Manchin, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also said he has a major problem with the climate-related provisions in the bill intended to bolster renewable energy sources and phase out fossil fuels.
“If enacted, the bill will also risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains,” he said.
He argued that “the energy transition my colleagues seek is already well underway” and noted that Congress has already “invested billions of dollars into clean energy technologies.”
His statement also pointed to growing tension with China and Russia as another reason not to pass a huge social spending bill.
“Our ability to quickly and effectively respond to these pending threats would be drastically hindered by our rising debt,” he said, referring to the aggressive posture taken by Russia toward Ukraine and China toward Taiwan and the South China Sea.