In a setback for President Joe Biden's climate priorities, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Monday withheld his endorsement of the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill, saying it would take time to study its long-term cost and potential impact on the economy.
Manchin's reluctance to support the bill unveiled by House Democrats last week is critical because Biden can't afford to lose a single Democratic vote in the 50-50 Senate. The bill is being moved through a budget reconciliation process, allowing it to pass the Senate with no Republican support.
Manchin's announcement came just hours after Biden addressed the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, and called on world leaders to step up their efforts to reduce their nations' greenhouse gas emissions.
The climate provisions in the Build Back Better bill are supposed to buttress Biden's pledge to halve U.S. emissions by 2030. "My Build Back Better framework will make historic investments in clean energy, the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis that any advanced nation has made ever," Biden said.
The bill's latest version includes more than $90 billion in agriculture, rural development, forestry and child nutrition provisions.
The legislation would provide $27 billion in farm conservation spending, including a new $25-per-acre payment to farmers for planting cover crops. Also included in the measure: $27 billion for forestry; $18.3 billion for rural development, including funding for biofuel infrastructure and rural electric cooperatives; $2 billion for agriculture research; $10 billion for child nutrition; and $6 billion for farmer debt relief.
At a news conference Monday, Manchin called on the House to act promptly on a separate, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that has already passed the Senate. That bill, which includes funding for roads, bridges, waterways, rural broadband and western water projects, has been stalled in the House because of progressives who object to voting on it until they are assured the Build Back Better plan is going to pass.
Manchin didn't demand any specific changes to the latest version of the Build Back Better legislation but instead focused his concerns about its overall impact on the economy.
"Holding this (infrastructure) bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill," Manchin told reporters.
He said he has been clear that he wouldn't support "a reconciliation package that expands social programs and irresponsibly adds to our $29 trillion in national debt that no one seems to really care about or even talk about. Nor will I support a package that risks hurting American families suffering from historic inflation."
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged Manchin's desire to support a bill "that combats inflation, is fiscally responsible and will create jobs." She said the plan currently being finalized in the House "meets those tests ... As a result, we remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin's support."
It was not immediately clear what impact Manchin's press conference would have on the plans of House Democratic leaders to hold votes this week on both the Build Back Better bill and the infrastructure measure. Progressives were working through the weekend on making some changes to the latest version.
After Manchin's appearance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement saying that Democrats were moving forward on the Build Back Better bill. The legislation "will grow the economy without increasing inflation, because it is fully paid for," she said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., later told reporters that it was still possible the House could vote on the bill this week.
Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CNN that progressives would leave it to Biden to deal with Manchin's concerns. "The president came to the caucus and he assured us that he would get 51 votes in the Senate for this deal that he has been negotiating with Sen. Manchin" and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Jayapal said.
Many of the agriculture provisions in the Build Back Better bill are supported by farm groups that are seeking federal support for climate-related farming practices.
"These investments will better position dairy farmers to proactively implement the dairy sector’s net-zero Initiative and fulfill its 2050 environmental stewardship goals.” Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, said in a statement issued by the group Monday.
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