Biden settles for health care plan as Manchin rejects broader proposal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Joe Biden is urging lawmakers to pass a measure addressing prescription drug costs and health insurance premiums after U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told Democratic leadership he did not want to take up a larger policy plan.

Biden, in a statement Friday, called on the Senate to pass legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and funding subsidies for health insurance plans purchased through the federal marketplace. Biden added the Senate needs to pass something before the chamber begins a lengthy recess next month.

President Joe Biden (Adam Schultz/The White House)

“Families all over the nation will sleep easier if Congress takes this action,” the president said.

Biden issued the statement after Manchin told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., he could not support a plan including climate change spending and tax increases. The Washington Post was the first news organization to report on the state of the negotiations.

Manchin has raised concerns about spending during his time on Capitol Hill, and he has focused his attention on inflation in recent months. His unease only grew after the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the annual inflation rate rose to 9.1% in June.

“[Americans] can’t buy gasoline. They have a hard time buying groceries. Everything they buy and consume in their daily lives is a hardship to them,” Manchin said during Friday’s “MetroNews Talkline.”

“Can’t we wait to make sure that we do nothing to add to that? I can’t make that decision on taxes of any type, and also on the energy and climate. It takes the taxes to pay for the investment in the clean technology that I’m in favor of. I’m not going to do something and overreach that causes more problems.”

Manchin said he wanted to wait until the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases inflation data for July before taking up any plan related to climate change and taxes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics plans to release July numbers on Aug. 10 as lawmakers are on break.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. (File)

Manchin said he told Schumer the Senate could pass legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, arguing the federal government would save $288 billion over 10 years. The senator said lawmakers could split the savings, saying $40 billion would go toward extending the health insurance subsidies for two years and $240 billion would be for debt reduction.

“That’s what you can do, Chuck, in July,” Manchin recalled telling Schumer.

Federal lawmakers approved the insurance subsidies in March 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 23,000 West Virginians would face higher premiums if Congress fails to extend the subsidies, in which 5,000 people would go uninsured.

Biden thanked Schumer for his negotiating efforts, remarking the Senate leader offered “significant compromises to try to reach an agreement.” The president did not mention Manchin in his statement.

“Now, Congress must act quickly and get legislation to my desk to deliver for American families,” Biden said.

Manchin ended Congress’ chances of passing a sweeping domestic policy proposal in December. Democrats reduced the plan’s scope and its price tag to $1.8 trillion in hopes of gaining Manchin’s support.

Manchin said he would not support the Build Back Better framework because of questions regarding inflation and the national debt.

“If you’re going to do something and do it, pick what our prized priorities are — like most people do in their families or their businesses — and you fund them for 10 years, and you make sure they deliver the services for 10 years,” he told Fox News.

“It’s hard to deliver service for one year or three years or five years, and how are we going to continue them unless it’s going to put a burden [or] unless we’re going to have to go back and make adjustments?”

On Friday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called on Congress to seize the opportunity to reduce drug costs but stressed a desire for legislators to address climate change.

“History will not judge today’s Senate kindly if it fails to take any meaningful steps to deal with the climate crisis,” he tweeted Friday. “We are leaving our children an increasingly dangerous planet to live on.”

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., issued a similar call to action.

“Congress must take bold climate action,” the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman said. “When we face a crisis of this magnitude, no setback can stop us. We must strengthen our resolve and find a path forward, including robust action now with the tools we already have as we work to provide more.”

Some of Manchin’s Democratic colleagues shared their frustrations about the West Virginian and his influence in the 50-50 Senate. Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith described Manchin’s actions as “infuriating and nothing short of tragic.” New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich questioned Manchin’s role as the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Heinrich serves on the same committee.

“This is THE moment to meet the challenges that we will be judged by – by our children, grandchildren and future generations. We can’t wait any longer,” the New Mexico senator said on Twitter.

Biden stated either senators will address climate change and domestic energy production, or he will take executive action.

“My actions will create jobs, improve our energy security, bolster domestic manufacturing and supply chains, protect us from oil and gas price hikes in the future, and address climate change,” he contended. “I will not back down: the opportunity to create jobs and build a clean energy future is too important to relent.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey tweeted he is willing to take legal action if Biden signs any executive orders. Morrisey noted Biden should remember the Supreme Court’s recent decision limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions; the attorney general led the coalition challenging the federal agency.

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