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Is Manchin Abandoning Build Back Better?

Stefani Reynolds/Pool via Reuters

Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to the Build Back Better legislative package has stopped President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda in its tracks, and now it looks like the West Virginia Democrat has no interest in trying to get the bill moving forward again, even on the terms he offered the White House in December.

Manchin said last week that there are no active negotiations on the spending package, and over the weekend sources told The Washington Post that Manchin no longer wants to pursue the $1.8 trillion counteroffer he discussed with Biden shortly before Christmas — a counteroffer that included hundreds of billions of dollars for programs focused on major parts of Biden’s domestic agenda, including education, health care and climate change.

Nearly a month later, Manchin has reportedly backed away from the counteroffer, which excluded funding for the enhanced child tax credit that progressives want, and he believes that Democrats need to start over with a new approach.

Growing doubt among Democrats: The White House continues to express confidence that the president can make a deal with Manchin, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” this weekend that she thinks the Build Back Better bill is still viable. “I do think there’s an agreement to be reached,” she said. “It’s so important for our country.”

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But some Democratic senators are losing faith that there is a way forward. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told The Hill that he has “no idea” whether Manchin wants to make a deal.

Another Democratic senator said there’s no indication that Manchin wants to get to yes. “I have no reason to think that he does, literally no reason to think that he does,” the senator said, adding that Manchin’s lack of interest suggests he has no plan to help Democrats pass either the Build Back Better package or the voting rights bill currently under consideration: “All the evidence is to the contrary.”

Still, some Democratic senators think Manchin is still open to a deal, but one that would likely bear little resemblance to the current bill. “What he has conveyed directly and indirectly to the president and to a number of us is that we got to cut this thing down and it’s got to look like what I support. But what came out of the House? Forget it,” said a third senator.

Republicans maintain pressure: Manchin has reportedly discussed the pros and cons of the Build Back Better bill with a wide range of officials, including Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (UT) and President Donald Trump’s former White House economic adviser, Larry Kudlow.

In an op-ed in The New York Sun last week, Kudlow said he has faith that Manchin will reject the Democrats’ bill, which he characterized as a “high tax, high spend, woke monstrosity.”

“The guy is not going to cave,” Kudlow wrote. “I fully expect him in the next couple days to tell us all that he intends to save America and kill the bill.”

Miners throw a wild card: Although Manchin appears to be listening to critics to his right who say that the Build Back Better plan is too big and too progressive, one key group in West Virginia that could influence the senator’s stance strongly supports the legislation: coal miners.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman reports that the United Mine Workers and the West Virginia A.F.L.-C.I.O. are backing the bill, which includes provisions on health care, economic development and green energy investment of interest to the miners, who remain a political force in the state despite their dwindling numbers.

“We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families and their communities,” the president of the United Mine Workers of America said in a statement in December.

Still, although miners in his home state may be more persuasive with Manchin than progressive Democrats from New York or California, Weisman notes that the bill represents a clash of interests between mining and energy company owners, who oppose its proposed investments in green energy, and workers, who are embracing a more environmentally friendly approach to energy production.

We’ll have to wait to see how that behind-the-scenes struggle plays out, but the miners’ decision to back the bill could end up being a significant factor in Manchin’s decision on whether to renew negotiations with the White House.

“Indeed, now that this fundamental conflict between mine workers and owners has been exposed, it should be harder for Manchin to sink BBB in the end, even under another pretext, without being perceived as operating in owners’ interests,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote Monday. “That might not be enough to persuade Manchin. But if it isn’t, what would be?”

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