What have Democrats in Congress said about a new relief bill?
It appears that with Democrats at an impasse on Biden’s agenda and other pressing legislative issues to deal with, Build Back Better will have to wait.
The remainder of President Biden’s signature legislative drive Build Back Better came to a screeching halt at the end of December. Just before the winter recess Senator Joe Manchin, a crucial vote for the legislation to pass the upper chamber, said that he could not vote for it.
Democrats have vowed to keep working to pass the sweeping climate and social policies Biden says will bring relief to Americans from the current high inflation. However, for the time being it appears that other legislative priorities will delay a vote on whatever can be salvaged.
Build Back Better hits the ropes
In the fall Democrats reach a consensus on what they thought could get through the Senate. Progressive in the party held up passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill in order to make sure that moderates in the party didn’t leave the remainder of Biden’s agenda waiting for a vote. After receiving assurances that the Build Back Better Act would pass the majority agreed to decouple getting both sets of legislation passed together in November.
It was always expected that some changes would be made to the bill when it got to the Senate. But as intraparty negotiations proceeded it became clear that key provisions of the legislation would need to be scaled back to get to the 50 vote threshold Democrats needed to pass Build Back Better using the reconciliation process. Talks formally broke down though when during an interview on Fox News Sunday Manchin said “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't. I tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there.”
Since then he has said that the bill is “dead” but his party colleagues have vowed not to give up on the legislation even if it needs to be scaled back or passed in “chunks.” In a letter to Democratic Senators Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote “We are going to vote on a revised version of the Build Back Better Act – and we will keep voting on it until we get something done.”
No vote in the Senate has been scheduled and Schumer hasn’t set a timeline for any. However, progressives want to see a vote before 1 March when Biden is set to give his State of the Union speech. Many are skeptical of that deadline but Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has hope Democrats will pass something. "I don't think we're starting from scratch. We know, actually, exactly what different parties want," Jayapal told CNN.
Modifications will need to be made to Build Back Better
The sentiment that a re-envisioned Build Back Better will be needed has been expressed by several leaders in the Democratic party. “There are many parts to the Build Back Better plan that all 50 Democrats agree on,” Senator Elizabeth Warren told Politico. “We just need to put those together and get it passed.”
Biden conceded his signature legislation may need to be broken into “big chunks” that can pass separately. But because the Democrats plan to use reconciliation whereby they can bypass the need for 10 GOP votes, they will need to be packaged together. "What the president calls ‘chunks’ I would hope would be a major bill going forward,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters in January. She admitted that the spending plan may need to be “more limited” and perhaps even renamed “but it is still significant,” she said.
Talks ongoing to salvage Build Back Better
In the fall, Biden took a very hands-on approach to the negotiations on his agenda before lawmakers, but since Manchin’s declarations the White House has left future discussions to take place in the halls of Congress. The Biden administration however is still in the loop “our staff and senior members of the team are engaged,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters of current conversations.
“There’s individual conversations happening,” Senator Debbie Stabenow told Politico. “It’s not the singular focus,” she added. The No. 4 Democratic leader sees it as work that will go into the spring.
Senate has a packed legislative agenda which will delay any new relief bill
The next few months will be very busy on Capitol Hill with a series of issues that need to be taken up, some of which could show the American public that both sides of the aisle can work together. Lawmakers need to pass full-year spending agreement for 2022, China competition legislation, and sanctions on Russia should it invade Ukraine in the coming days.
Under consideration are fixing the Postal Service, election reform bills, the Violence Against Women Act and legislation to overhaul how claims of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace are handled.
The White House will be especially focused on Biden’s first and perhaps only Supreme Court appointment. He has set a deadline for himself to nominate Justice Stephen Breyer’s replacement before the end of February.
All of which will delay any movement on the relief proposals for Americans in Build Back Better, or whatever it is called in the end. Democrats plan to push forward with it in some form or other though. "We must get something done," Pelosi said at the beginning of February. "I'm never giving up on BBB." Adding, "There are plenty of things in there that I think that we can find common ground."