Dec 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats brace for Build Back Better delay into 2022

Illustration of a traffic cone about to be kicked by a leg in a business suit and dress shoe.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Some Senate Democrats are bracing for President Biden's Build Back Better package to get punted into 2022, despite Democratic leaders insisting the massive social and climate spending bill will pass before the end of this year, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Beyond pushing major spending legislation into a midterm year, a delay in the $1.75 trillion bill creates several technical and financial obstacles for Democrats. They include lapses in key provisions like the child tax and clean energy credits.

  • Making technical fixes to the bill will be irritating for Democrats but not fatal to the legislation.
  • The bigger concern is any delay will result in a smaller package.

What they're saying: "Of course there are economic issues with respect to going from one year to another," Senate Financial Services Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told Axios.

  • Wyden said the bill must be passed no later than Dec. 28 in order for January federal support checks to be mailed to Americans.
  • "There are challenges if this goes to next year," agreed Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the committee.

Driving the news: President Biden said Friday he plans to speak early this week with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key holdout over the legislation.

  • But Manchin isn't giving any indication he's in a hurry, especially after Friday's report showing inflation running at 6.8%.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters he spoke with Manchin on Friday following the release of both the CPI report as well as the Republicans' score of the Build Back Better package — which estimates the bill would cost $3 trillion over 10 years if its programs never expire.
  • “Joe Manchin came to me and he said, ‘I think this bill is full of gimmicks that these programs won’t go away, Lindsey, and if you score them, I think the bill will double,'" Graham said on "Fox News Sunday."

What we're hearing: Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer privately acknowledges passing the bill before January is a very ambitious goal, senior Senate aides tell Axios.

  • Without such an aggressive deadline, though, there'd be no urgency for members to complete their work as quickly as possible, one of the aides said.
  • The aide pointed Axios to past legislative fights in which Schumer also set ambitious deadlines, such as his China bill or the American Rescue Plan.
  • Putting the pressure on is part of being leader, they argued.

Between the lines: There has always been good chance this bill would have to be delayed.

  • Congress faced a series of must-pass deadlines this month that were higher priorities than BBB, including funding the government, passing annual defense legislation and raising the debt ceiling.
  • Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, also has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer. That's complicated the timing for completing the "Byrd Bath" process — when Democrats and Republicans huddle with the parliamentarian over what is allowed to be included in the budget reconciliation process.
  • "The time schedule right now is [being affected by] the parliamentarian, and that can't be rushed," Cardin said.

The bottom line: The Byrd Bath is expected to be finished later this week. What MacDonough ultimately decides could further complicate negotiations.

  • Senate Democrats are also still debating crucial provisions in the bill, including the state and local tax deduction (SALT), Wyden's "Billionaires Tax" and a proposal to expand Medicare.
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