President Biden said yesterday he would support breaking up or paring down the "Build Back Better Act," pointing specifically to the $555 billion in climate spending as a key area of agreement.
"I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest later," Biden said yesterday during a news conference marking nearly one year in office.
"I’ve been talking to a number of my colleagues on the Hill," Biden added. "I think it’s clear that we would be able to get support for the 500-plus billion dollars for energy and the environment."
The comments outlined a potential path out of a logjam that has vexed Democrats for weeks. Many have been hesitant to endorse breaking up the bill into smaller chunks, insisting that top priorities like the child tax credit stay in the package. But Biden’s embrace of that strategy could point them toward a bill that focuses on climate change and whatever else the White House can get moderates to agree to.
The $1.7 trillion legislation has been stalled since last month, when Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced his opposition, citing high inflation, issues with how the expanded child tax credit was structured and a blowup with aides during talks with the White House (E&E Daily, Dec. 21, 2021).
Manchin has indicated that he has relatively few objections to the bill’s $555 billion in climate spending, telling reporters this month that "the climate thing is one that we probably can come to agreement much easier than anything else."
And other congressional Democrats say those provisions, namely the $325 billion in clean energy tax credits, are largely negotiated and agreed to, save for some outstanding talks with Manchin on a methane fee and a new credit for union-made electric vehicles. Most provisions extend for 10 years and are fully paid for: two top Manchin sticking points.
"I support President Biden in his effort to pass a Build Back Better Act that can get 50 votes," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement last night. "The climate and clean energy provisions in Build Back Better have been largely worked through and financed, so let’s start there and add any of the other important provisions to support working families that can meet the 50-vote threshold."
Notably, however, Manchin told reporters yesterday he is not actively negotiating and had not heard anything directly from the White House about potentially breaking up the bill.
‘Let’s go, Senate’
Meanwhile, most Democrats have in recent weeks shot down the idea of breaking the package up and passing multiple party-line bills under budget reconciliation, the limited process that allows certain spending bills to skirt the Senate filibuster.
Democrats see policies like the child tax credit and other social spending as something tangible to offer voters ahead of the midterms, and they’re hoping to get as much as they can out of talks with Manchin. Some House Democrats are also growing frustrated, having passed their version of the "Build Back Better Act" months ago with a promise from the White House that Manchin would be on board.
"I’m going to stick with our work product here, and I know the president’s twisting arms," House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Chair Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said in an interview yesterday. "Let’s go, Senate. Send us something."
But Biden said there are two specific items he is "not sure" he would be able to get done in the bill: the child tax credit and free community college.
"I’m confident we can get pieces, big chunks of the ‘Build Back Better’ law signed in law," Biden said.
Barring a larger breakup, that could leave a package focused primarily on climate change and early childhood education, an idea even progressives might be able to warm to.
"I think we can have some compromise which respects Sen. Manchin’s views but has robust climate, universal preschool and a number of other provisions," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in an interview yesterday.
As that legislative strategy takes shape, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a moderate, told reporters last night that he would be open to "just about anything" if Democrats can get an agreement on child care, high consumer prices and climate.
"And I will tell you that I just came off the worst year ever on my farm," Tester said. "We need to do something on climate change."
Still, Tester acknowledged that passing the bill in different chunks could be difficult. Democrats theoretically could get multiple chances to do a budget reconciliation bill this year, but it’s a time-consuming process, and they’ve already used plenty of effort getting to this point on "Build Back Better."
"If you split it up, I think it’s going to be a challenge," Tester said. "I think it requires different reconciliation bills."
This story also appears in Energywire.