White House Staying Mum on New Build Back Better, Joe Manchin

White House Staying Mum on New Build Back Better, Joe Manchin joe manchin looks on during a press conference Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to reporters in the Senate Subway of the U.S. Capitol during a series of votes in Washington, D.C., on April 7. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Monday, 11 April 2022 08:56 AM

The White House, after seeing President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan collapse when it couldn't get Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to sign on, is this time keeping quiet about the bill and Manchin himself.

This time around, the administration isn't talking about firm deadlines, or much about the negotiations at all, imposing, in effect, a gag order on the work going on that could determine the fate of the president's domestic agenda, reports Politico.

"I would quite explicitly not comment on the conversations that are happening," Brian Deese, Biden's National Economic Council director, told reporters at a recent event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, reports Politico. "I don't think that has served anyone particularly well."

Last year, the administration worked hard to push Biden's plan, including trying to push Manchin into backing the $1.7 trillion social spending and climate bill, but the negotiations ended in December without an agreement.

The senator is now saying he's ready to talk again, but Democrats are saying that as the bill will depend on Manchin, it's up to him to decide what's going to be in it and even to write it himself.

Instead of talking about the bill, Biden instead is assuring the public that his administration is working on a deal that will lower the national deficit and inflation. This time around, the administration isn't discussing specific policies that could be included in a new bill, such as on climate, healthcare, or children's programs, and officials say that's to keep quiet on ideas Manchin could reject.

A reconciliation bill that reduces the deficit is likely seen as something Manchin will back, even if Democrats don't see it as an exciting message as the midterm elections approach

Deese, however, acknowledged there are items in the pending legislation such as lower costs on prescription drugs and utility bills that voters will see as "practical."

"If we can get movement, it will be in exactly that frame," he also told Politico.

Some lawmakers and advocacy groups, though, are angry that the Biden agenda can depend on the opinion of a single senator but agreed that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., could also pose a problem.

But administration officials say they need to do what it will take to win agreement with Manchin, who has said he wants a small bill that focuses on prescription drug reform and climate program and says half the savings garnered by unraveling former President Donald Trump's tax cuts should be used to pay down the deficit.

"There is a clear deal to be had here that he's laid out that meets just a few basic criteria," said Ben Ritz, director of the Center for Funding America's Future at the Progressive Policy Institute. "One of the big questions will be if everybody is on the same page about what that means."

The White House has been talking with Manchin's aides and not him personally, but the senator's communications director, Samantha Runyon, said he's "always willing to engage in discussions about the best way to move our country forward."

"He remains seriously concerned about the financial status of our country and believes fighting inflation by restoring fairness to our tax system and paying down our national debt must be our first priority," Runyon said.

There are some in the Senate, including Democrat Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, and Chris Coons of Delaware, who are encouraging Manchin to reopen the talks, but others say the White House should have taken a firmer stance with him.

"I reject the notion that we should look to Joe Manchin as the oracle on what is best for America," Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., told Politico. "He's the saboteur of the Build Back Better Act so I see no point in placating the implacable. I have trouble grasping the political logic there."

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