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Is President Joe Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan dead?

Utah GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney don’t see social spending bill going anywhere

SHARE Is President Joe Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan dead?
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With the U.S. Capitol dome in the background, a sign that reads “Build Bake Better” is displayed before a news conference, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

With talks between President Joe Biden and a key Democratic senator apparently at an impasse, the president’s ambitious social spending plan appears headed for the graveyard — at least this year.

Count Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee among those who don’t expect the $1.75 trillion economic and climate package to go anywhere, though he says he thinks Biden will stop short of pulling the plug.

“I think it’s dead,” he told the Deseret News. “I don’t think the president today is going to declare it permanently dead. I suspect he will try — to paraphrase ‘The Princess Bride’ — probably try to characterize it as just mostly dead.” 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also doesn’t see the Democrats being able to advance the bill.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill succeeded because Republicans and Democrats worked together, he said.

“It was not one party’s wish list of social spending. There’s no question that separating the bipartisan infrastructure bill from the ‘Build Back Better’ plan has helped preserve the filibuster and has made it more difficult for the Democrats to move their partisan, progressive agenda,” Romney said in a statement to the Deseret News.

“If the BBB isn’t dead, it is on life support.” 

Critical differences between Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., the Senate’s most important swing vote, over how to pass the legislation remain unresolved, CNN reported, citing multiple sources with knowledge of the discussions.

Biden acknowledged late Thursday that negotiations over the bill will carry into 2022 despite Democrats’ effort to push it through before Christmas.

“My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Sen. Manchin; that work will continue next week,” the president said in a statement. “It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote.”

Biden said he and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are set on getting the legislation successfully to the Senate floor as soon as possible.

“Notwithstanding the unrelenting Republican obstruction — not a single Republican is willing to move forward on the bill — I am determined to see this bill enacted into law, to give America’s families the breathing room they deserve,” Biden said.

Senate Democrats hoped to pass the bill before Christmas. But without Manchin, Democratic leaders were forced to push the vote to next year. The House passed Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan in November without any Republican votes.

Members of Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation adamantly oppose the legislation. The state’s four congressmen voted against it last month, including Rep. Burgess Owens who called the plan a “scam.”

Democratic senators conceded there is no chance of passing the Build Back Better Act before the end of the year, as they had hoped, according to The Hill.

A Senate Republican aide on Thursday said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Republicans are close to a deal to confirm a bloc of nominees and hold some others over until January, which would clear the Senate calendar for the rest of 2021 and allow senators to go home for Christmas.

But more importantly, The Hill reported, there is also a chance the entire “Build Back Better” bill will have to be reworked to accommodate Manchin’s opposition to including a one-year extension of the expanded child tax credit in the bill, one of the major sticking points.

Lee said he and Manchin talked about the bill often, including a couple of times this week. Manchin, he said, has not waffled on his opposition and on what he has told Democrats, Republicans and the press.

“He is consistent in private with what he says publicly in stating his concerns,” Lee said.

Lee said he doesn’t think the bill will be back next because it has too many “infirmities” to overcome, including that it penalizes married people and parents, and people who don’t live in high-tax liberal states.

Manchin, he said, knows the legislation would not only be difficult to defend in West Virginia but bad for West Virginians and probably fatal to his political career.

“The ‘Build Back Better’ agenda that the president and his party are pushing is failing,” Lee said.

Democrats, he said, are seeing rampant inflation, government overreach, failings of government broadly and runaway debt mounting against them. People in Utah, West Virginia and across the country are starting to understand the connection between inflation and massive new deficit spending, Lee said.

Also, he said the bill is full of “very liberal” projects that even Democrats in Washington can’t agree on among themselves.

“Democrats can try to bring it up again, and Republicans will still, I think, stand unanimously in opposing it. But they’re not going to get it across the finish line, not without Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema,” he said. “It seems an impossible task, and it is.”

Sinema, a centrist Democrat from Arizona, has also voiced concerns about the plan’s price tag and reach. Lee said he also has had frequent conversations and described her as “not being settled” about the bill.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Senate Budget Committee’s ranking Republican, thanked Manchin and others for “standing their ground.”

“The good news for the American consumer, there’s not going to be any more inflation in your stockings because of Build Back Better,” he told reporters Thursday. “My belief is ‘Build Back Better’ never gets better.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office suggests the bill would cost $5 trillion and add $3 trillion to the national deficit, numbers Democrats dispute. Biden and Democratic leaders say the plan is fully paid for and would not add to the debt.

“I think ‘Build Back Better’ is dead, not just for 2021 but forever, if my Democratic colleagues who have been talking about what they won’t do hold firm,” Graham said. “If you really don’t want to vote for a bill that adds to the deficit, then you can’t vote for ‘Build Back Better.’”

Utah Republican Rep. Blake Moore didn’t say whether he believes Biden’s plan is dead. But he said as soon as the Senate became a 50/50 split, Democrats committed to trying to spend as much money as possible by abusing the budget reconciliation process.

“The narrow margins in Congress demonstrate that a radical tax-and-spend agenda is not what the American people want,” he said in a statement to the Deseret News. “Instead of rising to this moment for bipartisanship, Democrats have left us with inflated prices that have jumped to their highest levels in 31 years on everyday goods from gas to groceries.

Moore said those federal spending packages are hurting hard-working Utah families.

“Rather than pushing these massive spending bills, our government needs to focus on tackling the crippling inflation, supply chain and workforce shortages resulting from liberal policies” he said.

Romney joined a group of GOP senators at a news conference Wednesday, contending the social spending plan would hurt working parents’ ability to find and pay for child care, especially in faith-based settings.

“Democrats’ “Build Back Better Plan” is greatly flawed — it’s bad policy and the process of crafting the bill has been equally terrible,” Romney tweeted Thursday. “Legislation that affects something as important as our children, and how we raise our children, must be bipartisan.”