• Michael McAuliff

Manchin Says Start From Scratch On BBB

Democrats licking their wounds after losing the voting rights fight may be looking to revive the Build Back Better Act -- or at least "chunks," as President Biden said -- but contrarian Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin signaled Thursday it will not be easy.


Manchin suggested his priorities were dealing with inflation and debt, He also wasn't interested in picking up where the last try at Biden's massive climate and policy bill left off in December, when Manchin set a maximum cost of $1.75 trillion but ultimately opposed it, citing those inflation and debt concerns.


"We'll just be starting from scratch, whenever we start," Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill.


Just a day earlier, Biden said in a lengthy news conference that the bill could advance in pieces. "I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, and come back and fight for the rest later," he said.


Talking to reporters, Manchin sounded like he might be interested in certain parts of the previous package, but his concerns about cost and inflation remained.


"The main thing we need to do is take care of the inflation, get your financial house in order, get a tax code that works," Manchin said.


While he did not elaborate on taxes, he supported efforts in the previous BBB package to raise taxes on the wealthy.


He also stood by his long-running support for letting the government negotiate drug prices in Medicare, which was another part of BBB.


"Take care of the pharmaceuticals that are gouging the people with high prices -- we can fix that. We can do a lot of good things," Manchin said, though he again emphasized the reasons he opposed the last package.


"But get your financial house in order. Get this inflation down. Get on top of COVID. Get COVID out of the way, and then we'll be rolling," Manchin said.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters earlier that Democrats would return soon to the Build Back Better Act, though she said it would probably have to be called something else.


She also noted the fact it is still in the form of a bill moving under budget reconciliation rules, which allows a simple majority in the Senate to pass it, but also means it has to be one bill.


"Remember this is a reconciliation bill. So when people say 'Let's divide it up,' then they don't understand the process," Pelosi said.


She suggested priorities might be pieces where Republicans have shown no willingness to engage, such as climate legislation and extended health care assistance. She also highlighted the need for the childcare provisions that were in the BBB measure, such as universal pre-K and the expanded child tax credit. Manchin opposed the expanded tax credit, however, and did not mention child care in his top priorities.


While Pelosi offered broad outlines, she did not commit to specifics beyond saying that whatever Democrats do come up with has to be substantial.

"What the president calls 'chunks' I would hope would be a major bill going forward. It may be more limited, but it is still significant," Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.


"What can we agree upon?" she said. "I'm sure that we can agree upon something significant."


Pelosi also said Congress has to deal with the budget, passing an international competitiveness bill that's passed the Senate and legislation to support the millions of veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits in their deployments overseas.