Four months after President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act was torpedoed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the administration is working on another version of its social spending bill.
Without specifics, the White House has only given hints that it is working on a measure to reduce both household costs and the deficit. Talk about “transforming America” and even the “Build Back Better” moniker has been replaced by “Don’t Say Joe.”
Unlike the last time, everything around the planning and negotiations is under wraps. Officials have kept mum for several weeks about the successor to the doomed $1.7 trillion social spending and climate change bill.
This follows several months of negotiations with the West Virginia centrist senator, who has signaled that he is ready to talk about a smaller and more targeted package. With the evenly divided Senate, the Biden administration needs every Democrat on board to ensure passage, giving Manchin an enormous sway over the president’s agenda.
Reducing the deficit is not likely to resonate with voters this year, and it doesn’t translate well to a bumper sticker. However, it may keep Manchin on board with the final product and give Democrats something to present as midterm campaigns heat up.
Some officials, however, are mentioning items such as lowering utility bills and prescription drug costs that are practical and likely popular. Manchin emphasizes he wants a less sweeping bill that reverses Trump-era tax cuts and applies at least half the funds to reducing the deficit. Spending is likely to be centered on prescription drug reform and climate change efforts.
Democrats cannot afford to focus their efforts solely on Manchin. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is another party moderate who does not mind breaking ranks if she sees fiscal irresponsibility or, in the case of the federal takeover of elections, constitutional issues.
The clock is ticking on the Democrats’ control of Congress — even the most die-hard kool-aid drinkers see that coming. Band-aids on wounds inflicted by their own policies are not going to make voters ignore the mess they’ve created. But governing with the mere hope of passing something, anything, to make the populace believe that progress is being made is hardly a winning strategy.