President concedes he may have to break up flagship Build Back Better bill, but expresses confidence key climate provisions can pass
President Biden yesterday acknowledged his flagship Build Back Better bill is highly unlikely to pass in anything like its current form, but insisted that breaking up the legislative package could yet allow multi-billion dollar climate provisions to make it through Congress.
The sweeping $2tr Build Back Better plan had been designed to usher in a raft of major infrastructure and social programmes that would help accelerate the US economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The draft bill included a host of climate-focused projects and regulations that the White House had hoped to showcase at last autumn’s COP26 Climate Summit as evidence that it could deliver policies that would put the economic superpower on track to meet its overarching net zero emission goals.
However, the bill has remained stuck in limbo for months after Democrat Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema refused to back the proposed legislation, criticising the scale of the spending plans and some of the social programmes contained in the bill.
Their opposition to the White House’s legislative agenda has also extended to proposed voting rights reforms, which many Democrats have argued are critical to tackle the threat posed by GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression measures that are now widespread in many states.
The Democrats one vote majority in the Senate and the refusal of Republicans to consider any sort of deal with the White House means Biden requires the support of every Democrat Senator to pass legislation. Many observers also believe he has a narrow window to pass legislation, given the midterm elections this autumn could see Democrats lose control of Congress.
As such Manchin’s obstructionism, in particular, has sparked fierce criticism from green groups, who accused the West Virginia Senator of prioritising the coal industry over the interests of both his constituents and his party.
However, reports in recent weeks have suggested Manchin could be prepared to back many of the climate components of the bill and that his reservations about the Build Back Better bill are more focused on the sheer scale of the proposed $2tr spending programme.
Speaking at his first press conference of the year yesterday, Biden conceded the Build Back Better bill was now highly unlikely to pass, but he insisted that by breaking up the bill he could “get big chunks of Build Back Better signed into law”.
“It’s clear to me that we’re probably going to have to break it up,” he acknowledged, before adding that key parts of the legislation could yet command the support they need to get through Congress.
“I’m not going to negotiate against myself as to what should and shouldn’t be in it, but I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, come back and fight for the rest later,” he added.
Biden admitted plans to extend child tax credits and fund the cost of community college were now highly unlikely to pass, but he specifically referenced climate action as an area where a deal could be done.
“I think it’s clear that we would be able to get support for the $500bn for energy and the environment,” he said. “Joe Manchin strongly supports early education . . . So I think we can break the package up, get what we can now and come back and fight for the rest later.”
The $500bn energy and environment programme would provide a major boost to the US green economy, with the plan promising to accelerate action on multiple fronts, including clean energy infrastructure deployment, electric vehicle charging, and energy efficiency upgrades for buildings.
Biden also defended his wider record after a first year in office that has seen his approval rating plummet.
He insisted the administration had made “enormous progress” on many fronts, including through the acceleration of America’s COVID vaccination drive.
However, he lamented the refusal of Republicans to break ties with former President Trump and consider backing bipartisan legislation to help the economy recovery from the pandemic. “Did you ever think that one man, out of office, could intimidate an entire party?” Biden asked.