Sen. Joe Manchin III doubled down on criticism of President Biden’s mammoth social welfare bill Monday for relying on budgetary gimmicks, raising fresh doubts about Senate Democrats’ plan to vote on the bill this week.
Mr. Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and key swing vote on Mr. Biden’s agenda, said it would be disingenuous for the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act to run its social welfare programs for only a short time while the bill’s tax hikes last a decade.
“As far as I’m concerned, whatever plan it would be — pre-K, child care, in-home care — then it should be 10 years,” he said. “It shouldn’t just be one year here, three years here, five years there. I think it would be very transparent for the public to see.”
His objections put the bill in peril because it takes the defection of just one Senate Democrat to sink the legislation in the evenly divided chamber.
Congressional Democrats have kept down the cost of the package by limiting the life spans of some of the more expensive programs, though the proposed benefits would be politically difficult to end once established.
Mr. Biden proposed a one-year extension of the child tax credit, which gives $300 a month to families with children younger than 6. He also proposed a one-year extension of the earned income tax credit.
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For more extensive spending programs, such as universal pre-kindergarten and child care subsidies, Mr. Biden proposed six-year life spans.
Mr. Manchin said the tactic amounted to little more than budgetary gimmicks that mask the true cost of the legislation.
“I don’t think that’s a fair evaluation of saying we are going to spend X amount of dollars but then we are going to have to depend on coming back and finding more money,” he said.
Without properly accounting for all of the bill’s programs, Mr. Manchin said, lawmakers would create future problems and pile onto the $28.9 trillion national debt.
“If we’re not transparent and accurate, then where does the money come from?” he said. “Do we just throw caution to the wind and have debt financing, which has been done by both parties for far too long?”
The debt problem will weigh heavily on Mr. Manchin as he and fellow Democrats vote this week to raise the federal debt limit by more than $1 trillion. Republicans eager to paint Mr. Biden and his party as tax-and-spend liberals will oppose the maneuver, which will keep the U.S. government from defaulting on its obligations through 2022.
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“The more the men and women of this country learn about the reckless taxing and spending spree that Democrats are planning next, the less they want it or anything close to it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found last week that if all of the bill’s proposed programs continue over the next 10 years, the cost will increase by $3 trillion to $4.75 trillion over 10 years. The extra $3 trillion would be added to deficits, the CBO said.
“Their analysis is stunning,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. “We all know that the new provisions will not sunset. They never do.”
Mr. Manchin called the analysis “very sobering” and something lawmakers should consider as they debate the bill.
Mr. Biden was set to speak by phone Monday with Mr. Manchin to press the senator to drop opposition to the bill and help pass it before lawmakers depart Washington for the Christmas recess.
Mr. Manchin, however, has his own agenda for the call.
“We’re going to talk about exactly what happened on Friday, with the CBO score and inflation reports and things of that sort,” Mr. Manchin said.
Republicans hope the CBO numbers will persuade Mr. Manchin to kill the bill outright, especially with skyrocketing inflation.
“Joe Manchin has been wanting to know without gimmicks what the bill would cost. We now know it more than doubles,” Mr. Graham said. “My hope is that Sen. Manchin will say, ‘Stop, shelve Build Back Better until we find better answers to where inflation is headed.’”
Such a course of events would prove disastrous for Mr. Biden, who staked his domestic agenda on the bill’s approval.