Manchin dashes hopes of quick Senate action on Biden's agenda

Democrat leaders remain steadfast and say a vote on the Build Back Better plan will occur this week

A visibly frustrated Joe Manchin blasted Democratic House colleagues for holding a cross-party infrastructure bill 'hostage'. EPA
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A US senator with a critical role in shaping President Joe Biden's legislative agenda dashed hopes on Monday of the spending package being signed quickly into law, saying he needed time to consider the economic impacts.

A visibly frustrated Joe Manchin blasted Democratic House colleagues for holding a cross-party infrastructure bill “hostage” in a bid to win his support for the larger $1.75 trillion social welfare plan.

Known as Build Back Better, the potentially transformational overhaul of health care, education, climate policy and taxation has no Republican support, meaning it has to pass along party lines by a process known as “reconciliation” and cannot lose Mr Manchin or any other Democrat in the 50-50 Senate.

“The political games have to stop … Holding this [infrastructure] bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill,” Mr Manchin told reporters in Congress.

His latest statement threatened to sink tentative plans for House votes this week on that package as well as on the separate $1.2tn measure to upgrade the nation's internet connectivity and crumbling transport network.

While infrastructure has already passed the Senate and merely needs the House to synch up, various factions in the Democratic Party are still wrangling over the details of Build Back Better.

Progressives, who form by far the largest ideological grouping in Congress, have steadfastly refused to rubber-stamp infrastructure unless their priority — the social welfare package — receives a vote at roughly the same time.

They worry that, without the moderates' blessing for Build Back Better, progressives could end up voting yes on infrastructure only to see the Senate further paring back the larger bill.

America's dilapidated infrastructure: The Brent Spence Bridge

America's dilapidated infrastructure: The Brent Spence Bridge

Members of Congress could still theoretically press ahead, but without the moderates on board, any package passed by the House would probably be sent back from the Senate with significant changes, potentially delaying the process by weeks.

In reaction to Mr Manchin, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “The House, Senate and White House continue to move forward.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated: “We are still talking and working through important details and making good progress.”

The White House sought to play down the setback by Mr Manchin, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying in a statement: “We remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin's support.”

The president presented a Build Back Better outline last week but it is not considered final, with many liberals smarting over its omission of their favoured reforms on immigration, tax, healthcare expansion, paid family leave and prescription drug pricing.

They had since been seeking assurances on their surviving priorities from Mr Manchin and fellow moderate Kyrsten Sinema, who have together negotiated down the bill's original $3.5tn top line and reshaped its tax regime.

But Mr Manchin said he needed more time to consider the implications of Build Back Better.

“Simply put, I will not support a bill that is this consequential without thoroughly understanding the impact that it'll have on our national debt, our economy and most importantly, all of our American people,” he said.

Meet Joe Manchin: the man derailing Joe Biden's presidency

Meet Joe Manchin: the man derailing Joe Biden's presidency
Updated: November 01, 2021, 11:13 PM