Georgia Democrats lament Joe Manchin’s torpedo of Build Back Better bill

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin broke the hearts of many of his fellow Democrats when he said that there is no chance he will support a signature piece of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

The $1.7 trillion social spending and climate change bill known as the Build Back Better Act already passed in the House. But Manchin’s announcement on Fox News effectively killed any chance of it passing in the Senate because the support of all 50 Democrats is essential.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson compared Manchin to the title character in “The Grinch who Stole Christmas,” saying Manchin “appears hellbent on stopping the monthly tax cut, lower costs and environmental protections that tens of millions of American families support and deserve.”

“This comes as a heavy blow as we celebrate the holiday season,” Johnson, a Lithonia Democrat, said.

In a statement, Manchin said, “I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.’ Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation.”

Manchin’s decision leaves in limbo the several priorities that had been corralled into a single package, including Medicaid health care expansion in Georgia and other conservative states, adding hearing coverage to Medicare for seniors, extending the monthly child tax credit payments, green energy incentives and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

Democrats were using special procedures that would have allowed the bill to circumvent the Senate’s filibuster rules, meaning the measure could pass both chambers without a single Republican vote. But that meant Senate Democrats could not lose a single member of its caucus since that chamber is evenly split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris available to break a tie in Democrats’ favor.

By walking away from discussions with the White House and Democrats, Manchin also confirmed the fears of progressives who were always wary of the strategy of decoupling the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better bill from the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.

Once Manchin and the other moderates got the infrastructure bill into law in November, progressives worried there would not be momentum to get the more controversial “human infrastructure” in Build Back Better passed.

Georgia U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux was among the moderates who pushed to separate the two measures and pass the infrastructure bill first. She released a statement Sunday saying she hoped Manchin returns to the table to continue working on the House version of the social spending bill, which would raise taxes on upper income Americans.

“That version was fully paid for and aligned with Senator Manchin’s initial criteria for the bill while also keeping our commitment to support working American families, expand access to affordable health care, lower prescription drug costs, invest in our children, and get serious about the dangers posed by climate change,” the Suwanee Democrat said in a statement. “Walking away from this negotiation is unacceptable.”

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams of Atlanta, who also chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia, said the party should continue to fight for the progressive policies in Biden’s marquee plan.

“I haven’t given up yet,” she said during an event Monday morning to celebrate the infrastructure bill’s passage. “I heard the comments yesterday. This was a work in progress.”

Johnson focused on Democratic unity behind the infrastructure package, another Biden priority that attracted bipartisan support in Congress — but not from any one of Georgia’s eight Republicans in the House.

Johnson tried to tie the package to Rivian’s announcement Thursday that it would build a $5 billion electric vehicle plant in Georgia, the largest single economic development project in state history.

“The infrastructure package is already paving the way for historic growth of the electric vehicle industry right here in the Peach State,” he said. “So, the question is, why do Georgia Republicans oppose this popular landmark legislation?”

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Republican from Cassville, celebrated the at least temporary demise of the Build Back Better bill in an audio message to constituents that he shared on social media. He said the bill would have increased the national deficit and “enacts big-government socialist programs.”

“It’s really a build back bigger — bigger government,” Loudermilk said. “But that bill has stalled in the Senate, and it appears that the administration is going to give up on it, at least for now.”