As the 2021 legislative calendar comes to a close, so does the prospect of Senate passage of the Build Back Better Act. With a 50-50 Senate, the loss of just one Democratic member is fatal, and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.)’s remarks on December 19, 2021, appear to be a fatal blow.
In a statement posted to his Senate website Manchin stated: “Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation.”
Manchin did not mention specific measures in the Act that he found objectionable, but he cited his concerns regarding the package’s cost, the national debt, inflation, and the COVID pandemic as the reasons for his lack of support.
President Biden had suggested on December 16 that progress on his Build Back Better Act had stalled and that the bill would not likely advance in the Senate before year end. In a statement released by the White House, Biden said work on the bill would continue “over the days and weeks ahead,” but pointed out that, even if agreement is reached, it would take time to finalize the bill, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote.
The House of Representatives had passed its version of the bill on November 19, 2021. That bill includes a long list of spending measures that reflect the administration’s policy priorities, as well as a series of tax increases to offset the cost of the bill. The House bill, H.R. 5376, omits many of the tax increases from earlier versions, such as increases in the corporate tax rate, the individual rates and the capital gains rate, and it expands availability of the state and local income tax deduction that was limited in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 by increasing the deduction cap from the current $10,000 to $80,000 for those married filing jointly and extending the cap through 2030.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had repeatedly stated his intention to have the Senate vote on the bill before Christmas, but in comments made Friday, December 17 on the Senate floor, Schumer conceded that negotiations with key senators continued, an implicit recognition that that time frame would likely not be met.
Manchin’s announcement is a setback for the Biden administration’s legislative agenda.
The path forward for the legislation is unclear. After Manchin’s announcement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) issued a letter addressed to his Senate colleagues, in which he vowed to continue pushing forward: “Senators should be aware that the Senate will, in fact, consider the Build Back Better Act, very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television. We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act – and we will keep voting on it until we get something done.”