Groups refocus after Manchin’s Build Back Better announcement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kelly Allen was among those surprised when U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced he could not support Democrats’ sweeping domestic policy proposal.

Allen, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy’s executive director, told MetroNews her organization and others have spoken to Manchin and his staff about supporting the Build Back Better plan, which addresses child care, climate change and health care issues. She noted the senator seemed receptive to some of the plan’s components, which made his comments on “Fox News Sunday” disheartening.

“I was really disappointed to hear what sounded like he was walking away from the negotiation table,” she said. “I hope that’s not the case.”

Manchin’s remarks followed months of discussions involving President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders. Manchin cited the legislation’s potential impact on the national debt as an issue, adding legislators should focus on addressing inflation, the coronavirus pandemic and international political issues.

The Build Back Better framework includes universal preschool, an extension of the child tax credit, incentives related to clean energy, and language to reduce prescription drug costs and expand insurance coverage. The plan also has tax changes impacting corporations and wealthy Americans.

West Virginia Working Families Party state director Ryan Frankenberry said Manchin’s stance on the entire plan seems firm, yet Frankenberry sees it as an opportunity to negotiate.

“We’re going to continue to push for policies that are going to benefit the state, and we think the senator wants to deliver for the state,” he said.

Kelly Allen (West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy)

Allen and Frankenberry noted the child tax credit as an area of concern for their groups; under the American Rescue Plan, families received up to $300 per child each month until Dec. 15. According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, 346,000 West Virginia children live in households that received payments.

“No state is more impacted by CTC than West Virginia, where 93% of kids qualify for this benefit,” Allen said. “Under the American Rescue Plan and Build Back Better, it increased the total benefit of the child tax credit and ensures that low-income families will not be left out of the program. It also created this monthly benefit where families don’t have to wait until tax time to get a lump sum. They’re getting a check in real time to help them address issues with raising a family.”

The Washington Post reported Manchin presented a $1.8 trillion alternative package to the White House, but the plan did not include the expanded child tax credit.

“If this program lapses in January — which it will — and if Build Back Better is not passed, not only will those 346,000 kids and their families see a reduction in income in January, but 50,000 will either drop below poverty or into deep poverty if these payments don’t continue,” Allen said.

Frankenberry said lawmakers must continue the child tax credit.

“I think that the senator has expressed that, too,” he said of Manchin. “We may not be exactly where we want to be on that, but I think there are some similarities and support there.”

Allen and Frankenberry also emphasized the importance of paid family leave and medical leave, noting the importance of the programs given the state’s poverty rate and older population.

“There’s a lot of things that are critically important for West Virginians,” Frankenberry said.

The United Mine Workers Association — the nation’s leading coal miner union and a Manchin ally — criticized the senator for his comments. The union noted language in the Build Back Better proposal to encourage manufacturers to build facilities in areas impacted by coal’s decline, as well as a provision extending benefits to coal miners with black lung disease.

Manchin in September introduced a bill extending the excise tax through December 2031, but the Senate has not considered the measure.

“For those and other reasons, we are disappointed that the bill will not pass,” President Cecil Roberts said. “We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”

Frankenberry is not giving up on getting Manchin’s attention; the West Virginia Working Families Party has launched an advertisement campaign explaining the plan’s effects in hopes of encouraging West Virginians to contact the senator. Allen stressed there is urgency in getting lawmakers to pass legislation as soon as possible.

“I’m not speaking today as it being over,” she said. “I might be naive, but I think this is a real chance to make a huge difference for West Virginians. Not just for West Virginians, but West Virginia’s economy and West Virginia’s workforce. We’re not going to stop making that case after today.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told colleagues the Senate will vote on the Build Back Better plan once senators return to the nation’s capital. Manchin has welcomed an opportunity to vote on the proposal.

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