Progress on Biden's domestic policy plan sputters as holiday recess nears
Washington — As Democratic leaders' self-imposed Christmas deadline for passing President Biden's roughly $2 trillion domestic policy package draws near, discussions between the president and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia appear to be breaking down over the details of the measure.
The standoff between Mr. Biden and Manchin, whose support for the package is crucial to its passage, threatens to derail the spending bill, even as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed Wednesday that Democrats continued to work "on getting the Senate into a position where we can vote on the president's Build Back Better legislation."
But a source familiar with the matter said the talks between Mr. Biden and Manchin have been "going poorly," with the two Democrats "far apart." White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday that the president spoke with Manchin twice this week and called the conversations "productive."
Late Thursday, the president released a statement on the status of his agenda, saying he believes he and Manchin will bridge their differences and advance the legislation.
"My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week," Mr. Biden said. "It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote. We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead; Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible."
The source of the latest hang-up in negotiations appears to be the child tax credit, an expansion of which Congress approved earlier this year and is set to expire at the end of December.
The tax credit has been widely touted by the Biden administration, but the source familiar with the talks said Manchin has proposed getting rid of the expansion from the social spending plan altogether. A second source, though, said Manchin supports the child tax credit, but does not believe the price tag for the legislation should exceed $1.75 trillion over a decade. The child tax benefit alone would cost $1.4 trillion over 10 years.
"I've always been for child tax credits. We've voted for it many times," Manchin told reporters Wednesday, adding, "I'm not negotiating with any of you."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said Democrats are "still optimistic" about the sweeping domestic policy plan passing, but said the child tax credit is "really important leverage" in discussions over the bill, casting doubt on whether standalone legislation extending the aid could clear Congress.
"Of course we could pass that in the House. Whether we could pass it in the Senate remains to be seen," she told reporters during a press conference Wednesday. "But I don't want to let anybody off the hook on the [Build Back Better Act] to say, well, we covered that one thing, so now the pressure is off."
The House passed its version of Mr. Biden's domestic policy plan last month, which includes a one-year extension of the expanded credit. But the path to its approval by the Senate has been complicated by Democrats' fragile majority in the upper chamber. While Senate Democrats are using a special procedure to pass the plan with a simple majority, that still requires support from all 50 Democrats, making backing from Manchin crucial.
The West Virginia senator has for months been at the center of negotiations with the White House, during which he has raised concerns about the size and scope of the plan. Manchin's opposition to the plan's initial $3.5 trillion price tag led the president to scale down his proposal significantly, to $1.75 trillion. While talks among Democrats were ongoing, Schumer repeatedly said he believed the Senate could finish its work on Mr. Biden's signature domestic policy proposal before Christmas.
But with progress on the package sputtering with the impasse between Manchin and the White House, Senate Democrats have begun to shift the focus to voting rights. Schumer met Wednesday morning with a group of Democrats, including Manchin, to discuss possible change to Senate rules to allow voting rights legislation to pass with a simple majority, a source on Capitol Hill said. Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, huddled with a group of Democratic senators Wednesday to discuss the path forward on voting rights, the organization said.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, told reporters Wednesday there has been "some" progress on his social spending package, but indicated he would be open to a push toward voting rights.
"If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it," the president said during a trip to Dawson Springs, Kentucky, to survey damage from a devastating tornado outbreak. "If we can't, we've got to keep going. There's nothing domestically more important than voting rights. It's the single biggest issue."
Nikole Killion, Jack Turman, Ed O'Keefe and Tim Perry contributed to this report.
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