Senate Democrats’ infighting over President Biden’s social welfare bill spilled into the open Wednesday, with lawmakers brooding that they would fail to pass the legislation by a self-imposed Christmas deadline.
The lawmakers took out their frustration on Sen. Joe Manchin III, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who is the chief holdout on the roughly $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act. They accused Mr. Manchin of obfuscating his position by drawing a series of red lines only to undercut or reinforce them later to the chagrin of colleagues.
“I think it is appropriate for him to finally come to a conclusion as to what he will accept,” said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.
Mr. Durbin, who serves as his party’s chief vote counter in the Senate, said Democrats will have to eventually force Mr. Manchin to end his “fence-sitting.”
“There comes a time we’ve got to say, all right, we’ve done the negotiating,” he said. “It’s time to put up or shut up.”
Given that Democrats plan to pass the legislation through the evenly split Senate along party lines, Mr. Manchin’s vote is key. Democrats say they are willing to meet Mr. Manchin and compromise, but for that to happen they need a clear understanding of where he stands.
They pointed to Mr. Manchin’s muddled position on the expanded child tax credit as a prime example of why they are frustrated.
Mr. Biden has a one-year extension of the expanded credit, which gives parents with children under the age of 18 between $250 and $300 in monthly direct payments. The White House boosted the program’s direct payments earlier this year to offset the lingering economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House initially sought to make the credit permanent but was forced to settle for the one-year extension after opposition from Mr. Manchin. With the program set to run out at the end of the month, Democrats are now pushing for a resolution.
“We need the child tax credit,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat. “It has cut childhood poverty in America by nearly half.”
Not only has Mr. Manchin blocked the passage of Build Back Better, but Democrats say he is also pushing to end the enhanced benefits of the child tax credit.
For his part, Mr. Manchin denies that he’s pushing to gut the tax credit.
“I’m not opposed to the child tax credit, I’ve never been opposed to the child tax credit,” he told reporters. “You can ask all the questions you want … This is bullsh—t. You’re bullsh—t.”
Mr. Manchin said it would be improper for the Build Back Better Act to fund social welfare programs over a shorter period if the tax hikes being used to fund such measures 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,” Mr. Manchin said recently. “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 current position on the child tax credit is an extension of that view, according to sources.
Democrats fret the intransigence will kill the one-year extension of the child tax credit’s enhanced benefits. They say the result would be disastrous for families.
“Today, another round of monthly Child Tax Credit payments starts going out – and we can’t let them be the last,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “For the sake of working families everywhere, the Senate needs to pass Build Back Better now.”
Most Democrats see the program as popular and something they can run on in 2022 and beyond, despite fiscal watchdogs estimating it would cost upward of $1.6 trillion over the next decade.
Complicating matters is that earlier Mr. Biden removed work requirements for individuals receiving the credit. At the time, the decision was pitched as an effort to ensure parents displaced by COVID-19 were still eligible.
Mr. Manchin, a budget hawk, has long asserted that Congress cannot afford such lax spending programs, especially with the economy in the throes of inflation.
“Inflation is real, it’s not transitory,” he said. “It’s alarming. It’s going up, not down, and I think that’s something we should be concerned about.”
Democrats said Mr. Manchin is just putting up more roadblocks to legislation that is popular among the party’s base.
Whether that’s true, no one is arguing that Mr. Manchin has frustrated Democrats in their ambitions.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, has said for months his deadline for passing the spending package would be before Christmas. That timeline now looks increasingly unlikely to be met.
“It’s not so much the calendar. If we wanted to do it, we would do it,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat. “But I think there are still some issues with a person.”