Dec 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden and Manchin deadlocked on length of BBB programs

Sen. Joe Manchin is seen being trailed by reporters as he walks through the Capitol on Tuesday.
Reporters trail Sen. Joe Manchin after the weekly Democrats caucus luncheon at the Capitol on Tuesday. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are locked in a disagreement over how long programs in the Build Back Better agenda should be funded, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The impasse all but guarantees the Senate will delay a vote on the $1.75 trillion spending package until next year. It's also an indication Biden is willing to hold out for a bigger deal, as opposed to a faster one.

  • The president told the senator during a phone call Monday he didn’t want to budge from his plan to fund some of his programs for one year, and others for 10 years.
  • Manchin was equally clear: Before negotiating which individual programs should survive, he wants to agree to a common denominator for their funding term.
  • Biden wants to focus on the numerator — the top-line cost of each program —regardless of how long it endures.

Shorter durations mean more programs can be started or funded under a given price tag.

But, but, but: Projecting the cost of those programs over the same span — 10 years is a typical government projection — allows an apples-to-apples comparison of their true cost.

  • It also has the politically unpalatable effect of raising the overall price tag.
  • Manchin's insistence on using the same time horizons shows just how far the two sides have to travel to achieve a deal.
  • His office declined to comment on the specifics of his conversation with Biden.
  • A White House official said: "The president and Sen. Manchin deal with each other in good faith, and their calls have been constructive and friendly."

Between the lines: As he negotiates over the size and scope of Biden’s social spending bill, Manchin insists he’s not trying to bend his party to meet his priorities.

  • He says he simply wants to be clear about his own position.
  • “I don’t think I am asking anyone to move,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju, during a walking interview to his waiting SUV. “I want people to understand where I am.”
  • Asked if Biden is moving closer to him on the spending package, Manchin said: “I wouldn’t say that.”
  • Manchin and Biden briefly spoke today as well.

Go deeper: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer continues to insist a deal can be achieved by Christmas, but senators are growing openly skeptical about his ambition timeline, Punch Bowl News reported.

  • “The president's been speaking with Sen. Manchin, and I look forward to hearing about further progress,” Schumer told reporters.

Be smart: There's risk for the White House in letting the negotiations drag into 2022 — a midterm election year.

  • Manchin continues to raise alarms about inflation and the effects of trillions of dollars of additional government spending on prices.
  • His concerns have been validated by Consumer Price Index readings, with Friday's report putting the current inflation rate at 6.8%.
  • The next CPI release is on Jan. 12, which may be more of a deadline for reaching agreement on the spending bill than Christmas Day.
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