At the end of the day, it appears a 74-year-old white male millionaire killed the paid family leave provision in President Joe Biden's Build Back Better bill.
Whatever his reasons, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia certainly didn't do it for America's families—neither for the kids, nor for the moms and dads. But he also didn't do it for the Democratic Party or the real "moderates" who are facing tough reelections next year.
In fact, House Democratic moderates in vulnerable seats have a message for Manchin and the equally destructive Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona: Don't do me any more favors.
The dastardly duo are each singlehandedly responsible for likely cutting out some of the most popular provisions in Biden's family and jobs bill, including paid family leave, expanding Medicare coverage to include dental and vision, and allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug pricing. Though nothing is set in stone yet, that’s what seemed most plausible Thursday evening.
“No normal person can understand why we can’t negotiate for drug prices,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan told The Washington Post. “So what they see when we can’t pass that year after year is greed, and I have no problem saying I’m frustrated with the other side of the aisle, but in this case, my own party because that one is just a simple thing we could do.”
Slotkin is one of 32 members in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "front-line" program, designed to give an extra boost to Democrats in the most hotly contested seats.
In any normal one-party negotiation, the needs of front-liners like Slotkin would be paramount. But instead, Democrats have been running around tending to the every whim of Sinema and Manchin, who have apparently taken zero interest in whether they tank the chances of their own party holding its own in the midterms next year.
“I don’t think there’s a damn thing that we can do about certain people in the Senate,” said Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, another front-liner.
And not for lack of trying. Over the summer, Wild headed up an effort to write a letter to leadership advocating for inclusion of the prescription drug provision in the Democrats-only bill. All 15 members who signed on were front-liners.
Now, instead of focusing their campaigns on delivering certain policies that many of these Democrats ran on, many of them are already preparing to emphasize other provisions that appear to have survived the Manchinema machete, including universal pre-K, child care subsidies, and a one-year extension of the child tax credit.
One possible silver lining of certain provisions sunsetting sooner than Democrats had originally hoped will be the ability of Democrats to run on extending those programs, like the child tax credit.
“I’ve long said that as long as we can get some of this good stuff in for a year, two years, three years, I’m okay with that because I really do believe they’re going to prove to be so popular as programs that the American people are going to demand that,” Wild noted.
As for something like paid family leave, which appears to have been left on the cutting room floor, front-line Democrats hope they have at least initiated a national conversation that they can campaign on in the future.
One other silver lining of the trimmed down bill: a narrower menu of options to campaign on may also work to Democrats' advantage. Earlier this month, a CBS News/YouGov poll found that just 10% of Americans described themselves as knowing a lot of specifics about Biden's Build Back Better plan; 33% said they had a general sense and knew some specifics; 28% said they had a general sense but knew no specifics; and 29% said they simply don't know what's in it. That's a lot of education awaiting Democrats on the other side of this bill.
In fact, when President Biden visited Slotkin’s district earlier this month, he was greeted by some 500 protesters, some of whom said they objected to the size of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better plan.
“We have not put a strong foot forward on messaging,” Slotkin said. “People need to know what they’re getting for all this money and that means reversing the paradigm and talking about what we are going to do instead of what we’re not going to do.”
So while getting major priorities like paid leave and prescription drug pricing in the bill surely would be preferable, there's still plenty for Democrats to work with in terms of selling the package to constituents. Just like there’s still plenty of work for Democrats to do.