Manchin and Sinema Are Blocking Everything

Voting rights, child care, and climate legislation are all in grave peril.

Jonathan Ernst/CNP/ZUMA Wire

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Joe Biden’s bitterest ex in the Senate, went on Hannity yesterday to crow that the Build Back Better bill was “dead forever,” and the sad thing is that he might be right. 

Build Back Better is the legislative basket in which the Democrats placed all their choicest eggs, including provisions to fight climate change, expand the social safety net, and reform the tax system. During negotiations earlier this year, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) used his vaunted perch as a moderate holdout to demand that the Democrats whittle down the package from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion over 10 years. The Democrats did what he asked, but in a way that he doesn’t like. Instead of getting rid of the various programs crammed into the legislation, they rewrote the bill so that many of them expire after a shorter amount of time. Manchin finds all this temporary spending to be a duplicitous “budget gimmick,” since many Democrats have made no secret of the fact that they want these programs to be renewed, even though they probably won’t be if and when Republicans take back the legislative branch. 

Instead, Manchin wants a bill with fewer but more permanent initiatives. His demand here isn’t unreasonable, but it would also require a drastic overhaul of the Biden domestic agenda, which, at this point, just feels cruel. Manchin has trained his sights on the expanded child tax credit, one of the most transformative provisions in Build Back Better, which could slash child poverty by 19 percent. The argument over the provision is pretty complicated, but the long and the short of it is that Manchin seems to want one of two things gone from the bill: the expanded child tax credit, or every other program in the legislation. 

It’s no surprise, then, that one anonymous source told NBC that talks between Manchin and Biden are going “very poorly.” And without Manchin, the bill has no hope of passing. It seems almost certain that Senate Democrats will fail to achieve their 2021 resolution of passing the bill by year’s end. If this turns out to be true, Democrats will be voting on the bill in a midterm year, which could inflate the already heightened sense of urgency around the negotiations and change the risk calculus for various lawmakers backing the legislation. 

With Biden’s social spending agenda at a standstill, the Democrats have signaled that they’re going to try to combat Republican voter suppression efforts by restoring the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013. But this effort, too, is almost certain to be blocked by Manchin and his partner-in-crime, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). The only way that voting rights legislation would have even the smallest chance of passing is if the Democrats find a way to get around the filibuster—either by abolishing it completely or establishing a temporary carve-out. And Sinema has been dropping hints Kim Kardashian style that she won’t support any moves to amend the filibuster to protect the right to vote. This, of course, would mean that the actions that GOP-run state legislatures have taken to curtail voting rights, gerrymander congressional districts, and lay the groundwork for an authoritarian power grab in 2024 will remain virtually unchallenged by Democrats on Capitol Hill. 

If both the Build Back Better plan and voting rights legislation end up dead in the water, Democrats up for reelection will essentially have to spend 2022 campaigning on their only major legislative achievements so far: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in November, and the stimulus bill that passed in March. Some will have to do so in heavily gerrymandered and voter-suppressed districts. But the obvious flaw of staking a midterm campaign on an infrastructure package is that it takes a while to build things. People will likely not experience the benefits of the bill for months, maybe even years. Meanwhile, American families will see many tangible benefits—like the current expanded child tax credit—expire by 2022 unless the Build Back Better bill is passed. The Democrats will literally be in the position of having to sell their constituents bridges.

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate