Joe Manchin says Build Back Better is ‘dead’ as talks stall over Biden’s agenda

Manchin’s objections to the legislation have been the main obstacle to Democrats‘ progress, with the West Virginia moderate dealing a heavy blow to the proposal late last year by saying he would not vote for it, putting end to months of laborious negotiations. Now, as lawmakers turn their attention to a number of pressing agenda items, including an upcoming February 18 government funding deadline, Manchin is making it clear he doesn’t think the resumption of negotiations on Build Back Better be a top priority.

Asked about Build Back Better’s status on Tuesday, Manchin replied, “What Build Back Better bill? There’s no, I mean, I don’t know what y’all are talking about.”

Pressed by CNN whether he had any talks about the proposal, Manchin said, “No, no, no, it’s dead.”

When later asked to elaborate on his comment that the legislation is “dead”, the West Virginia Democrat said, “If they talk about the whole big package, it’s gone.” On possibly supporting a smaller package, he said, “We’ll see what people come up with. I don’t know.”

Manchin again raised concerns about inflation and said passing a government spending bill “must be done first.” He also highlighted bipartisan efforts to reform the voter count law as a priority, saying those talks are “on track now.”

Since Senate Democrats control only a narrow 50-50 partisan divide, every member of their caucus is expected to support the legislation to pass through a process known as reconciliation, which would allow them to avoid a GOP filibuster.

This dynamic has given Manchin outsized influence over the process and the ability to shut down Build Back Better altogether if the rest of his party can’t find a way to bring him on board.

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Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hit out at Manchin for saying Build Back Better is “dead”.

“When you have a proposal that has the overwhelming support of the American people and it addresses the long-neglected crises facing working people, we can’t let that die,” he said. “And if Mr. Manchin chooses to side with corporate America on this issue, that’s his business. But for me, and I think millions of Americans, we need to fight for the needs of working families. .”

After Manchin’s statement in December that he did not support the proposal in its current form, Democrats had to significantly narrow the scope of their ambitions and instead expressed hope that they could still pass key elements of the plan even if it did. ultimately means having to go ahead with a much narrower package that would force them to sideline other priorities. President Joe Biden described the effort as passing “big chunks” of Build Back Better.

But Manchin has already set the bar high for passing a scaled-down version, previously saying they’re “starting from scratch” and will have to tackle pressing national issues — like the pandemic, inflation and federal debt — before tackling a cornerstone of the White House agenda.

On Tuesday, Manchin clarified his concerns and priorities.

“My main concern is inflation. The high costs for everyone in my state and across the country that I hear about,” he said, “And also the geopolitical turmoil we have in Ukraine. It’s going to be a significant cost, some sooner rather than later. And on top of that: Covid. We have to see which direction Covid is going, and what effect it’s going to have on our economy. Those are always the driving forces.

Manchin told reporters on Monday that he still had not participated in any meetings on the future of Build Back Better, saying that “there have been no formal meetings, basically, sit-down meetings or things like that.”

“I said I’m open to talking to everyone, always have been,” he continued. “I just want to make sure we find a balance, and something that we can afford, and do it and do it right, whatever we do.”

CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.

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