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What's next for Biden's social spending plan

After months of setbacks, President Biden is looking to chart a path forward for passage of his spending agenda. But while the president indicates he's willing to break up the Build Back Better Act to get it done, Democrats may be starting from scratch with negotiations on Capitol Hill. 

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden said at his press conference he is confident they'll be able to get "pieces, big chunks" of the Build Back Better Act signed into law before the midterm election. Biden said they're probably going to have to "break it up." He said his goal is to get as much done as possible and then come back and fight for the rest of the agenda. 

But on Thursday, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia acknowledged that his previous offer for a $1.8 trillion spending bill, discussed last fall, is no longer on the table. "We'll just be starting from scratch" he said of the legislation, meant to address a wide range of Democratic priorities from climate change to health care. He said last month he could not support the Build Back Better Act, denying Senate Democrats the necessary 50 votes to pass it in its entirety on their own.

The West Virginia senator said the country needs to get its finances in order, arguing they need to "get inflation down" and "get COVID out of the way."

Prices rose 7% across last year, their fastest pace in 40 years. It was one of the issues Manchin cited when he said he could not support the spending bill. But waiting for prices to level off could take some time. Officials at the Federal Reserve and other forecasters believe inflation will remain into the second half of this year amid ongoing supply chain challenges and high demand. 

The White House on Thursday did not give a new targeted price tag for the spending bill or what exactly it would include. 

The president "wasn't necessarily dictating what the size would look like," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday of the legislation. "He wants to get as big of a 'chunk' as we can get done, done and through Congress."

Democrats have been using the so-called reconciliation process, meaning they only need 50 votes in the Senate to pass their spending agenda. However, should the bill be broken up into separate pieces of legislation, the provisions not included in reconciliation would require 60 votes to pass in the Senate and therefore, some Republican support. 

As Democrats look at what can be salvaged from the Build Back Better Act, provisions to combat climate change could be one area where Democrats move forward. 

"I think it's clear that we would be able to get support for the $500-plus billion for energy and the environmental issues that are there," Biden told reporters Wednesday. 

Manchin did not say if he was comfortable with that amount – but he did not rule it out.

Other areas of possible agreement floated among Democrats on Thursday include tackling the cost of early childhood education and reducing the costs of prescription drugs.

Biden on Wednesday acknowledged he is not sure he can get two major components of his agenda into the package: the extension of the expanded child tax credit, which had been temporarily going out to some 36 million families on a monthly basis last year and free community college. 

Psaki said Thursday she would not prejudge what would be included in the legislation when asked about the child tax credit payments. However, the future of monthly payments to families with children remains unclear on the hill. 

Since the final monthly payments as part of the American Rescue Plan went out in December, several Democratic Congressional aides have said extending the benefit remains a top priority for some lawmakers in conversations with party leadership. 

But Manchin, who has previously floated work requirements and lower eligibility thresholds, declined to go into detail on the child tax credit Thursday. Other Senate Democrats said extending it remains one of their important issues. 

Alan He contributed reporting. 

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