WASHINGTON – Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Tuesday his opposition to President Joe Biden's roughly $2 trillion package of social and environmental initiatives remains undimmed, as party leaders said work on the stalled measure was on hold until at least later this month.
Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters that he's not currently negotiating with the White House over the standoff, but didn't rule out continuing talks. Manchin, who was his party's chief remaining holdout over months of talks, surprised and angered party leaders before Christmas by saying he could not support the legislation as written.
“I feel as strongly today as I did then," Manchin said in his first extended remarks since announcing his opposition on Dec. 19. He has cited concerns about the measure's impact on inflation and federal deficits, criticisms other Democrats have dismissed as unfounded.
Manchin's comments Tuesday, along with leaders' concessions that the bill is on the back burner for now, suggested that the legislation's fate remains in doubt as the calendar slips ever closer to this November's congressional elections.
There are examples of flailing presidential priorities eventually clawing their way to passage, including then-President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, a 2009 effort that wasn't enacted until March 2010. But often, the prospects for obstructed bills fade over time as opponents mount offensives that weaken support from lawmakers seeking reelection in closely divided districts.
Democrats would need all their votes in the 50-50 Senate to advance the measure over unanimous Republican opposition. A version of the package has already passed the House. It will likely be time consuming to forge agreement on a revamped measure among the party's progressives and moderates, who have grown more distrustful of each other as talks have limped along.
Manchin has said the bill is too costly and wants to pare down the number of proposals in the wide-ranging measure. It currently would bolster family services, health care, climate change and other programs, and is mostly paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and large corporations.
One of Manchin's targets is the bill's extension of a beefed-up child tax credit, a top goal for many Democrats, which has included recently expired monthly checks of up to $300 for millions of recipients. Manchin said Tuesday he wants that benefit, which unemployed people can currently receive, narrowed to only help those with jobs.
Biden “absolutely” wants to reach an agreement on the bill with Manchin and other lawmakers, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. She said extending the improved child tax credit was a priority, adding, “We’re going to fight for that.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said his chamber will focus early this month on voting rights legislation, another Democratic priority. He said he plans to hold votes on that issue by Jan. 17.
He also said Tuesday that “the stakes are high for us to find common ground" on the social and environment bill, which has been Biden's primary domestic priority for months. Schumer said negotiations are continuing and said Democrats will “keep working until we get something done."
No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said lawmakers “clearly will return" to the $2 trillion package when their work on voting legislation is finished.
The sidetracked measure includes more than $500 billion in spending and tax credits aimed at promoting clean energy and working toward Biden’s goal to cut the country’s planet-warming emissions in half by 2030.
Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee and whose state's economy relies heavily on energy production, suggested he could back many of the climate provisions, including some tax credits. He also wants the bill to include money to promote nuclear power and to capture emissions from industrial facilities that burn greenhouse gases and store them underground.
The plan includes tax credits for businesses that install wind, solar, geothermal and other clean energy technologies and also gives buyers of electric vehicles up to $12,500 in tax credits.
“The climate thing is one that we probably can come to an agreement on,” Manchin told reporters.
At a separate news conference, pro-environment senators stressed the importance of reaching an agreement.
“The planet continues its warming process while we argue and fuss and fight,″ said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “And that’s why we have to have a collective determination to get this done.″
AP reporter Darlene Superville contributed to this report.