Updated Mar 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Manchin outlines BBB deal requirements

Illustration of a printed document with red and blue markings and scribbles resembling the U.S. flag
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told a group of climate activists and energy executives he's open to supporting revised Build Back Better legislation narrowly addressing three issues: climate change, prescription drug prices and deficit reduction.

Why it matters: Manchin’s private comments during a closed-door dinner Monday are a clear indication he’s serious about returning to the negotiating table, but for a much smaller version of President Biden's initial $3.5 trillion proposal, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

  • His comments at the closed-door dinner, hosted by the American Clean Power Association, the trade association for the renewable energy industry, are consistent with conversations Manchin has had with Senate colleagues.
  • In those informal talks, he's outlined a deal that includes roughly $500 billion for climate and $1 trillion in new revenue.
  • But the senator isn't indicating any support for universal preschool or any of the other care-economy proposals that were included in Biden's initial "human infrastructure" package.
  • And Manchin is insisting on reducing the deficit with at least half of the revenue from new corporate taxes, as well as the estimated savings from allowing Medicare to directly negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.

What they are saying: “Sen. Manchin is always willing to engage in discussions about the best way to move our country forward,” said Sam Runyon, the senator’s communications director.

  • “He remains seriously concerned about the financial status of our country, and believes fighting inflation by restoring fairness to our tax system and paying down our national debt must be our first priority.”
  • “He has made clear that we can protect energy independence and respond to climate change at the same time,” she said. “He continues to believe we can and must lower the cost of prescription drugs for working Americans.”
  • Jason Ryan, the spokesperson for the American Clean Power Association, said, “We don’t comment on private political meetings."

The big picture: While Manchin’s talks with the White House on the House-passed $2.2 trillion Build Back Better legislation are over, his office is reviewing new legislative proposals.

That may be an indication he's serious about negotiations, E&E News reported Wednesday, while stressing the process was in its early phases.

  • In February, White House officials discussed how to recast Biden’s social spending and climate plans into a deficit-reduction package, hoping to appeal to Manchin’s concerns about inflation, according to the Washington Post.
  • After the president mentioned lowering the deficit by $1 trillion during his State of the Union address March 1, Manchin indicated he was open to some additional spending.
  • “If you do that, the revenue-producing [measures] would be taxes and drugs. The spending is going to be climate,” Manchin said during an interview with Politico.

Between the lines: Despite the headline number, climate activists and progressives are likely to be disappointed by Manchin's energy spending priorities.

  • Manchin clearly wants to invest more money for energy independence, including incentives to produce more natural gas domestically.
  • The specific proposals emanating from his Energy and Natural Resources Committee are unlikely to match the $550 billion set of priorities passed by the House in November.

The bottom line: Any skinnier Build Back Better legislation still faces numerous hurdles.

  • They include agreement from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on the revenue side, and acceptance from progressives that $550 billion on energy and climate is the only deal they'll get.
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