President Joe Biden is trying to resurrect his Build Back Better plan from the ashes left from Sen. Joe Manchin’s torched it last December. The reboot will be “Building a Better America,” says White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. What’s not clear is whether the West Virginia Democrat is actually acting in good faith when he says he would consider helping.
We’ve heard that from Manchin before—that’s the big caveat to all of this. He’s loved being courted by President Biden and all the Democrats, having all of the D.C. press corps hang on his every word, most of which are worth about as much as the pixels that have been spent on them. Then he punctuates his “independence” from the Democrats with stunts like spurning Democrats at the State of the Union.
He really seems to relish stringing the whole country along. That’s caveat number one. Caveat number two is the game he seems to have been playing with his counterpart in perfidy, Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. What one of them agrees to, the other says they just can’t possibly support.
But if any of the ambitious agenda to help American families and combat climate change is going to survive, the two of them have got to be included. Right now, it’s Manchin who’s raising his hand to start negotiations with his current demands: anything that passes has to be funded permanently and lower the deficit. He says they have to start with two things that Sinema has been problematic on—prescription drug savings and tax reform.
“If you do that, the revenue-producing [measures] would be taxes and drugs. The spending is going to be climate,” Manchin said, in his typical inarticulate way. What he meant, apparently, was that he thinks that tax reform and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices would offer enough deficit reduction and surplus revenue to allow for some of the climate measures Biden wants in “Building a Better America,” which we now have to call BBA, I guess.
Speaking of climate, the provisions have to include energy investments in domestic fossil fuel production as well as clean energy, using the Russian attack on Ukraine and subsequent disruption in the oil supply as his reason. “You want to be able to defend your people, have reliable, dependable, and affordable power? You have to use ‘all of the above,’” Manchin said. “They say ‘Manchin doesn’t care … he’s killing the environment.’ I’m not killing anything.”
That’s as much detail as Manchin would go into. Previously, he’s supported raising the corporate tax rate to 25% from 21%, raising the top capital-gains rate to 28% from 23.8%, and increasing taxes on private-equity managers’ carried-interest income. It sounds like that might still be what he has in mind, but Sinema vetoed all that.
As for her part, Sinema was mum as usual, but had one of her spokespeople speak for her, as usual. “Any new, narrow proposal—including deficit reduction—already has enough tax reform options to pay for it. These reforms are supported by the White House, target tax avoidance, and ensure corporations pay taxes, while not increasing costs on small businesses or everyday Americans already hurting from inflation,” said spokesperson Hannah Hurley. Which means no new tax proposals beyond what she agreed to last year.
Sinema did relent somewhat on prescription drug price negotiation for Medicare last year, but that was last year, and whatever agreement she made with President Biden and the White House then might no longer be operative. It was also never agreed to by House Democrats, who called it a “Trojan horse devised by Big Pharma.”
Again, Manchin may be offering up things for a deal that he knows will be blocked—either by Sinema or by a group of House Democrats who are not willing to pump more taxpayer dollars into the fossil fuel industry maw.
Some climate hawks are cautiously hopeful about what Manchin is offering right now. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told reporters he believes Manchin is leaving the door open to “a significant piece of climate legislation.”
“The test is emissions reduction,” Whitehouse said. “And if it’s climate stuff in quotes that has climate as this topic but doesn’t produce the emissions reductions we need to get on a safe pathway, then I’m going to need to see it improve until we’re on a safe pathway.”
The test is also whether Manchin would do any work at all to get Sinema on board. So far, between the two of them, they’ve led the White House and Democrats on a merry chase.
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