White House officials worried Manchin will again block Biden’s plans

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Last spring, President Biden proposed spending more than $4 trillion to transform the US economy. In negotiations last fall, after some of that money ended up in a bipartisan infrastructure bill, the administration narrowed its request to about $2 trillion. Now, with the clock ticking ahead of the November election, many White House officials are privately saying they would consider themselves lucky to secure a deal worth $1 trillion.

Biden’s waning ambitions are largely the result of failed negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.), the still-elusive 50th vote for the president’s agenda in an evenly divided chamber. White House officials face the “real fear” of not reaching a deal with Manchin — even one that leaves out most of what Biden had originally hoped to accomplish, according to three senior administration officials and three outside White House communications advisers, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on internal discussions. A year after Biden outlined his climate and social spending plans, the White House is running out of time to onboard Manchin, with many congressional lawmakers viewing July 4 as a crucial deadline for action.

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In recent weeks, White House officials have quietly tried to gauge Manchin’s interest in a package that would mostly consist of clean energy initiatives, prescription drug reform and higher taxes on the wealthy and businesses, the people said. Ideas discussed internally include more than $500 billion in deficit reduction, the people said. On Monday, a spokeswoman for Manchin reiterated that he supports measures to boost energy production in the United States, reduce prescription drug costs and increase tax revenues for businesses and the wealthy.

But despite his support for those provisions in general, Manchin has yet to specify to the White House what he would support in a final deal, people familiar with the administration’s talks said. Manchin has privately told lawmakers in recent days that he wants Congress to approve a bipartisan energy deal in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which would complicate an already difficult timeline for a larger spending proposal. broad, according to two other people familiar with the matter, who also spoke on condition of anonymity to reflect private interviews. A bipartisan group, including Manchin, met Monday night to discuss energy legislation.

“The White House throws every iteration at him,” a senior administration official said of the talks with Manchin. “But the relationship went sour, partly because of the tactics used on both sides.”

A White House adviser added: “There is a real fear inside the building that the stone walls of Manchin will overtake the clock of Biden’s legislative agenda throughout the year, driving the administration and congressional Democrats in November with nothing else to offer voters.”

Sam Runyon, a spokeswoman for Manchin, said in an email that the senator “is always ready to engage in discussions about how best to move our country forward.” Manchin told Bloomberg News on Monday night that lawmakers casually reached out to him, but there was “nothing formal” about a new proposal. As he left a half-hour meeting with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) on Tuesday, Manchin said any Democratic economic legislation moving to the Capitol this year should be narrowly focused on the fight against inflation.

“He remains seriously concerned about the financial situation of our country and believes that fighting inflation by restoring fairness to our tax system and paying down our national debt must be our first priority,” Runyon said in a statement. She added that Manchin believes in fighting climate change and promoting America’s energy independence, while ensuring that “no family has to choose between life-saving medicine and putting food on the table”.

The White House has publicly acknowledged that its conversations with Manchin are ongoing. Several top Biden officials, including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, traveled to West Virginia for meetings with Manchin in March.

Leaving the meeting with Schumer on Tuesday, Manchin ruled out discussions of social programs and tempered expectations of a potential deal. “There is nothing formal,” he told reporters. “I want to make sure you all understand: there are no false hopes here.”

White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that any Biden officials frustrated or worried by Manchin’s remarks do not represent the administration’s view.

“Anyone expressing these sentiments is not speaking on behalf of the White House. Senator Manchin’s communications with us have been clear and in good faith,” Bates said. “We do not comment on the details of our contacts with lawmakers, but we are in contact with a wide range of members about a reconciliation package that will reduce some of the most significant costs families face, fight against inflation as well as climate change and continue to reduce the deficit at a historic rate.

Failure to reach a compromise would have profound economic and political consequences. The administration has touted last year’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and separate bipartisan infrastructure law as landmark achievements. But the White House sees its proposed energy tax credits as key to fighting global warming and steering the US economy away from fossil fuel dependence. His proposals to impose substantial tax hikes on America’s wealthy could be the most substantial rewrite of the country’s tax code since the Reagan administration and address growing concern about wealth inequality. Biden may have fewer other chances to leave a lasting mark on the economy.

Even if successful, a smaller bill is now certain to ditch the top priorities of top Democratic lawmakers and interest groups.

“Obviously they’re disappointed,” said Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank, citing conversations with White House officials. “They expected a lot to see something happen. They knew they wouldn’t get their ideal package, but they expected to get something out of it.

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Democrats are trailing in the polls ahead of the midterm elections, and the GOP is widely expected to take control of at least the House, if not also the Senate, in January. Even some of the more centrist voices of Democrats are growing infuriated by the lack of clarity on the precise measures Manchin supports.

“Now is the time for Manchin to demonstrate that he wants any deal by stating exactly what would be acceptable to him. The time for 20 questions is over,” said Bill Galston, who was one of the main domestic policy aides in the Clinton administration and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, another Washington-based think tank. “If he really wants to get the deal done, now is the time to do it. “

Hopes for an agreement have not been extinguished. Broadly speaking, Manchin has continued in recent weeks to say he supports deficit reduction through tax reform, containing prescription drug costs and spending billions on energy initiatives — exactly the areas the House is on. Blanche concentrates in her discussions with him.

Manchin’s defenders say the White House ignored his demands during initial negotiations. Top Democratic and administration officials had backed legislation that would have ended new government programs after a few years, reducing overall spending. Manchin objected, arguing that the plan obscured the true cost of the proposed programs. The administration has abandoned that approach, people familiar with the matter said.

Manchin has made it clear that he will only approve fully paid, detailed and limited-scope legislation, but the administration has not produced such an offer, a Manchin ally said, speaking under the guise of l anonymity to discuss negotiations.

Ben Ritz, director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank, added: “[The White House] didn’t meet Manchin where he was in the last round of Build Back Better, and that’s why he collapsed. … At least in public statements, when everyone is talking about prescription drug reform and an energy bill – it looks like they’re trying to meet him where he is.

Democrats face major hurdles. In particular, the relationship between Manchin and the White House appears to have been badly damaged by the negotiations last fall. Manchin was infuriated by the administration’s decision to name him in a press release as an obstacle to a deal.

The West Virginia senator has also become increasingly critical of the administration’s economic management. Since the vote for the stimulus package, Manchin has expressed concern over rising prices and said inflation amounts to a tax on American households. Manchin also recently told donors he plans to run for office in 2024, according to CNBC. Some White House officials privately question whether Manchin benefits politically from high-profile fights with Biden, who is unpopular in West Virginia. Most polls show that most people in the state approve of Manchin’s performance.

Some Biden allies say Manchin’s seemingly shifting demands have complicated negotiations. Last July, Manchin presented Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) with a one-page document agreeing to $1.5 trillion in spending to enact key elements of Biden’s agenda. . Senior Democrats spent the summer pressing Manchin for a deal worth more than $2 trillion, with the president eventually outlining a $1.9 trillion plan in October as the target for negotiations. In December, Manchin made a concrete $1.8 trillion counter-offer to the White House that included universal pre-kindergarten and hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy. The Washington Post reported in January that Manchin later took that offer off the table.

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“The point, for Manchin, is attention, and the best proof is that after a full year of breathless coverage, no one really knows what they really want to go through,” said Karthik Ganapathy, a strategist progressive. “The one consistent thing about Joe Manchin III throughout this process is that he insisted on putting himself at the center of it.”

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