Meanwhile, House and Senate appropriators are still working on the omnibus spending bill to fund government after Feb. 18, but there’re plenty of hints that Republicans aren’t really working that hard to get it done. They’ve been openly pushing for funding government through continuing resolutions, stopgap measures that just continue current levels of funding. They’ve managed to force the Biden administration to operate on a Trump budget for over a year now, and seem to intend to keep that up. Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, told NBC News, “I think we might have another” continuing resolution, admitting that some of his colleagues want to wait until after the midterms when they expect to have a majority and have even more leverage over the Biden administration’s budgets. Republicans aren’t likely to force a government shutdown, but they are more than likely to continue to hamstring the administration.
Which is a good transition to Build Back Better (BBB) and voting rights/election reforms, where Democrats are being forced to try to find means of appeasing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin because he thinks Republicans actually want to help govern. At least that’s the excuse he’s been using to block the agenda of Biden and fellow Democrats. In last week’s infrastructure speech in Pittsburgh, Biden made the pitch again for BBB. “We can’t slow down, folks. We need to ease the burden of working families, make everything more affordable, accessible,” Biden said. “That’s what my Build Back Better plan is all about.”
Manchin has said he’s open to negotiating again on the bill, and might have moved somewhat from his position that everything done so far has to be scrapped. Last week, Manchin suggested that he is not opposed to continuing the child tax credit, a key point of contention between him and everyone else. “Everyone thinks the child tax credit has gone away. The child tax credit’s still there, the $2,000 child tax credit is still there, and we’re going to make sure that we can help, continue to help those in need,” he told West Virginia MetroNews’ Hoppy Kercheval. He just wants it to be means-tested. ”I want to target West Virginians basically to make $75,000 or less should be the highest priority we have.”
“More needed on a targeted basis I call means testing,” he said. “So I’m all open to looking at anything and everything that helps people, but targeting it better. That’s it.” His limit might not fly with other Democrats, because $75,000 as a cap cuts out a hell of a lot of families who’ve been relying on the monthly payments to help provide a financial cushion in this chaotic time. Powerful House Democrat Rep. Jim Clyburn said he could support a lower cap, and put the onus on Manchin to do it. “I would like to see him come forward with a bill for the child tax credit that’s means-tested. I think it would pass. He’d get it through the Senate. I think we could get it through the House.”
That’s possibly the only thing Clyburn and House progressives agree on with regards to Manchin: He needs to step up and commit to what he actually will support. They’re trying to kick-start the negotiating process to have this bill done by March 1. “There is agreement among Senate Democrats on significant parts of this bill: climate action, the care economy, taking on Big Pharma’s price gouging, and lowering health care costs,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). “There is agreement on the need to reduce rising costs facing ordinary Americans—and that is exactly what Build Back Better does.”
“In the months since negotiations around the Build Back Better Act stalled, the case for this legislation has only become more urgent,” she said in a statement from the group Thursday. Though the CPC had been the main driver in keeping Biden’s vision for BBB alive in Congress for the past six months, Pelosi essentially dismissed their efforts to keep an urgent focus on the bill. “We don’t have a timetable,” Pelosi said Thursday. “We will pass the bill when we have the votes to pass the bill.”
There’s a renewed push from progressive advocacy groups to help the CPC create that urgency. More than 250 advocacy organizations joined in sending a letter to the Democratic Senate that is being reproduced as a full-page ad in The New York Times. The group are urging Senate Democrats to pass BBB with the original provisions for child care and universal pre-K, paid family and medical leave, home- and community-based health care services, and the child tax credit.
Piggybacking on that, Protect Our Care, a health care reform advocacy group, commissioned polls from Public Policy Polling (PPP) in Arizona and West Virginia on the health care provisions in BBB, intended as a nudge to both of the Democratic problem children, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Manchin.
“More than 7 in 10 voters in Arizona (73%) and West Virginia (72%) agree that bringing down prescription drug prices and lowering the cost of health insurance premiums would help families combat rising costs and inflation,” the polling found. “Arizonans and West Virginians also overwhelmingly support measures to lower health premiums, extend Medicare benefits to seniors, and expand coverage to millions by closing the Medicaid coverage gap.”
It could help. Manchin’s opposition to the child tax credit seems to have been tempered some by general public approbation of his cruelty. (His “they’ll just waste the money on drugs” sentiments being leaked publicly probably helped there.) The idea that he could be a hero at home for expanding health access might work. Likewise, Sinema should recognize that she’s completely on the wrong side of any possible majority that would reelect her, unless whatever reality-shield bubble she seems to be operating in has continued to filter all that out.
That bubble has been pierced enough for Sinema to recognize she should at least appear to be doing something to protect democracy. She and Manchin both are involved in the ongoing bipartisan talks on reforming the Electoral Count Act, and possibly doing more to protect voting rights. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is supportive of ongoing talks, as is Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Of course McConnell is supportive; Republicans hold most of the cards here and aren’t going to do anything that will get in the way of their taking the 2022 midterms. Sure, they want to discourage a Trump coup, but they aren’t going to do anything drastic like endorse free and fair elections and universal voting rights.
Sen. Susan Collins, McConnell’s trusty tool in bipartisan unicorn bills, is making that obvious. “There are some who want to revisit the voting reforms that were not passed. I’m not among those. I would like to do our best to come up with a bipartisan bill that could garner 60 or more votes,” Collins said. As far as including any parts of Manchin’s Freedom to Vote Act, she said that “there is not consensus, at all, on whether that should be part of any agreement that we’re able to reach.”