Build Back Better Crumbles: What’s Next for Biden and Congressional Democrats?
Monday morning quarterbacking was in full swing at the start of this week following Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) televised delivery of a presumed fatal blow to President Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act, the massive social spending bill that passed the US House of Representatives in November and was pending in the US Senate. Manchin clearly stated, “This is a no,” on a Fox News program, no less – just in case his Democrat colleagues needed a further poke in the eye.
Because of the 50/50 partisan split in the Senate, it was always a given that every single Democrat Senator must vote “yes” to pass the law through the budget reconciliation process that allows for a simple majority passage. (Assuming, of course, that all 50 Republicans would oppose it en bloc, which has been the case to date.) Thus, every Democrat Senator held the fate of Build Back Better in his or her hands, and the Senator from West Virginia emerged as the hold out vote.
So, where does this leave the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats’ legislative agenda at the start of 2022? Likely full of recriminations and regret. And maybe – just maybe – a glimmer of hope for those who consider Manchin to be this holiday season’s ultimate Grinch.
First, the finger-pointing. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which includes 95 House Democrats plus Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), was irate this week, vocalizing “I told you so…” to the media regarding their insistence that Congress should never have voted on the popular bipartisan infrastructure legislation without first passing Build Back Better. Progressives had threatened to withhold votes on the infrastructure bill unless the two pieces of legislation were paired; the political equivalent of kids holding hands to jump into the swimming pool to ensure everyone gets wet. Speaker Pelosi ultimately denied progressives their wish. Now, that faction says exactly what it feared – that only one bill would become law by end of 2022 – has just come true.
Meanwhile, other Democrats voiced regret that Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) and the White House let the Manchin (and, initially, Senator Sinema, D-AZ) negotiations drag on far too long. President Biden’s popularity numbers dipped precipitously during this five-month timeframe, which weakened the effectiveness of a White House public pressure campaign on Manchin. During the same period, consumer concerns regarding inflation increased, making it easier for Manchin to cite a resonating reason to walk away from the negotiating table.
The White House was swift to hit Manchin within hours of his television appearance, accusing him of “breaching his commitments” – Washington-speak for flat out calling him a liar. Manchin has publicly spoken this week, too, stating that his key concerns: the bill’s price tag, accounting gimmicks to “score” the bill, and inflationary scares have been consistent and transparent from the beginning of the process. In a press release accompanying his Sunday television appearance, he also added a list of new concerns: skyrocketing Omicron cases, geopolitical uncertainty, and the failure of Senate leaders to use regular order of committee consideration instead of the reconciliation process to pass the bill. Manchin’s Democrat rank-and-file colleagues have uncharacteristically name checked him in their angry public responses to his decision, while also privately blaming their own leadership for failing to meet the obstinate Senator’s demands and snatching defeat from the jaws of (a slimmed down) victory. The situation has grown increasingly personal; Manchin’s family has been threatened; his DC houseboat has been besieged by protestors in kayaks (you can’t make this stuff up). Sounds like everyone needs an extended holiday break (and copious amounts of eggnog) before regrouping on Capitol Hill in the new year.
The fastest path to recovery of the party’s agenda, however, will require a quick pivot to other key policies on which both Biden and Congressional Democrats successfully campaigned in 2020 – as well as successful crisis management in the new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Voting rights, a stand-alone extension of the child tax credit, and perhaps a new round of pandemic relief focused on small businesses and targeted sectors still suffering (i.e., restaurants; live events) or left out of initial recovery packages (i.e., fitness centers) are all policy angles Democrats will likely pursue in the first quarter of 2022. Also, expect a revived and robust effort by Senate Democrats to kill off the filibuster in order to pass the above mentioned (and future) pieces of legislation by a simple 50+1 majority. Of course, Manchin has been opposed to this fairly monumental procedural change, as has Sinema, which puts both Senators right back in the spotlight as do or die votes.
Finally, while printing and packaging companies may be breathing sighs of relief that Manchin’s apparent death knell for Build Back Better means escaping new tax hikes, increased costs of environmental operations, and onerous regulatory fees and penalties (such as a ten-fold dollar increase in OSHA citations), it’s important to note that Democrats may still find a way to rebuild Build Back Better into a product Manchin can support. Some Congressional Democrats signaled this week that they are ready to accommodate him; others are demanding a roll call vote on the Senate floor just to force him to cast his “no” vote officially and publicly.
Senator Majority Leader Schumer was set to hold a critical 8 PM conference call with Senate Democrats on December 21st, the longest night of the year (perhaps metaphorically as well as literally), to explore various political and policy paths forward. No word yet on whether a certain Senator from West Virginia planned to phone into that call.
Lisbeth Lyons is the Vice President, Government & Political Affairs at PRINTING United Alliance, the most comprehensive member-based printing and graphic arts association in the United States. PRINTING United Alliance members have exclusive access to preeminent education; training; workshops; events; research; governmental and legislative representation; safety and environmental sustainability guidance; and resources from the leading media company in the industry – NAPCO Media.
In this article, Lisbeth addresses the Build Back Better Act. More information about tax, regulatory and economic policy can be found at www.sgia.org or reach out to Lisbeth should you have additional questions specific to how these issues may affect your business: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To become a member of PRINTING United Alliance and learn more about how PRINTING United Alliance subject matter experts can assist your company with services and resources such as those mentioned in this article, please contact the Alliance membership team: 888-385-3588 / email@example.com.
Lisbeth Lyons is Vice President, Government & Political Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance, the largest, most comprehensive graphic arts trade association in the country. With more than 20 years of experience representing the voice of business on Capitol Hill, Lisbeth advocates for public policies that protect and advance the economic future of the printing and packaging industry. She oversees PRINTING United Alliance’s legislative, political, and grassroots advocacy initiatives, and has served in executive leadership of multiple successful advocacy campaigns, such as Coalition for Paper Options, Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, and Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers Coalition.
Prior to representing PRINTING United Alliance, Lisbeth served in similar roles at Printing Industries of America, US Telecom, and the National Federation of Independent Business. She also spent three years as a K-12 teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system, where she was on the forefront of urban education reform in the mid-1990s.
Lisbeth is Midwestern born and bred, having grown up in the St. Louis metropolitan area and attended college at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before starting her career in Washington, DC. She holds a B.A. in English/Sociology and a professional graduate certificate from The George Washington University School of Political Management. She lives in the historic Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC.
An avid leader and learner in professional development, Lisbeth was a founding member of the Government Relations Leadership Forum, and is an active participant in organizations such as Council of Manufacturing Associations, Women in Government Relations, and National Association of Business PACs, among others. Lisbeth is often a featured speaker at premier industry conferences; she has spoken to Boards of Directors, corporate executive management teams, and state and regional trade associations across the country from coast to coast.