Dec 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Democrats fail to deliver year-end Build Back Better deal

Sen. Joe Manchin is seen walking through the Capitol basement.
Sen. Joe Manchin walking through the Capitol basement on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Democrats will conclude the year without delivering on President Biden's top priority: his $1.75 trillion Build Back Better agenda.

Why it matters: As predictable as that outcome may have been, it still has consequences for the party. Beyond the political ramifications of failing to meet a promised deadline, the chief concern is that dragging out negotiations will result in a smaller package during a midterm year — or no package at all.

  • In Congress, and particularly a 50-50 split Senate, taking advantage of urgency is vital.
  • Pushing action off to 2022 is a buzz-kill.

What we're hearing: Democratic leaders are already looking at setting new deadlines in early 2022 to renew that sense of urgency.

  • But the problems they face now — including pushback from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on the child tax credit and overall price tag, as well as disagreements over the State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT) — will likely follow them into the new year.

What they're saying: "My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week," Biden said in a statement on Thursday. "We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead."

What's next: The Senate is now attempting to make the push to change Senate rules — thus making it easier to pass voting rights legislation — front and center. A breakthrough on a potential deal remains far off.

  • Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with a series of Senate Democrats via Zoom on Tuesday.
  • The group included Manchin, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), according to a person familiar with the call.

Tester told Axios it was a productive meeting but said Manchin “isn’t there yet."

  • Klobuchar said Biden has been very engaged, and said he's being "realistic" about what they can expect.
  • She said he also knows there are members — read: Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — who don’t want to mess directly with the filibuster.

The only real, remaining issue between members and their holiday recess: approving a series of Biden's nominees.

  • Schumer is pushing through a package of 21 judicial, ambassadorial and other nominees, and may try for more in a last-ditch attempt to use senators' eagerness to get home as fuel for chipping away at the historically large slate of officials they need to confirm.
  • GOP leaders were hopeful early Thursday they could reach a deal to help speed up the voting process.
  • However, Schumer and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) failed to break their stalemate over nominees. Cruz is delaying action on more than 50 nominees, using it as leverage to secure a vote on Nord Stream 2 sanctions.
  • If no deal is reached, senators could be forced to stay the weekend, and potentially into early next week, to vote through each nominee after a lengthy debating procedure forced by Cruz.
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