Here's how Democrats can sweeten the deal for Manchin to back Biden's big spending bill

Here's how Democrats can sweeten the deal for Manchin to back Biden's big spending bill
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe ManchinDrew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Democrats are unlikely to advance a skinnier spending package until the spring.
  • Manchin has signaled he could get onboard a plan that cuts the federal deficit.

President Joe Biden's $2 trillion social and climate spending bill is dead, and Democrats aren't likely to advance a skinnier bill anytime soon due to resistance from a holdout within their ranks and GOP resistance.

Democrats are likely to wait and try to pick up smaller pieces sometime in the spring, given Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia threw more cold water on new federal spending this week in light of stubborn inflation.

Talks between the conservative Democrat and the White House completely collapsed in late December after he put a dagger in the House-approved bill. Without Manchin's vote, the plan is stalled in the 50-50 Senate.

But there's one issue that Manchin has dropped breadcrumbs about recently that could draw him back to the negotiating table: addressing US national debt. He's grown increasingly alarmed since the fall and has expressed more interest in a package that slashes the federal deficit — the gap between what the government spends and collects in taxes — to some extent.

"That's the purpose that we have in this. We have to basically get our financial house in order," Manchin told Insider on Tuesday. "That's the whole purpose of reconciliation."


That means Democrats could sweeten the deal for Manchin by reshaping part of their plan into a deficit-cutting package. However, that presents a fresh challenge for Democrats to surmount.

Every dollar directed at shrinking the deficit means fewer dollars to establish new social benefit programs for Americans as they confront inflation. Planned initiatives to cap childcare costs, establish universal pre-K for younger children, or offer fresh subsidies to cut health premium costs could end up far less generous than the party envisioned — and therefore less effective at reining in rising costs.

During negotiations for the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, Democrats tried keeping the price tag below $1 trillion to avoid swelling the federal deficit and keep centrists onboard the endeavor. That strategy led them to delay its implementation for years, undercutting the law's ability early on to expand health coverage and exposing it to fierce GOP attacks.

Still, many Democrats believe passing a slimmer version of the social and climate spending plan is better than the alternative of doing nothing with rising prices eating into people's pocketbooks. The latest Consumer Price Index showed inflation rising 7.5% year-over-year in January.

"It's not easy for Congress to regulate the price of a gallon of milk, but it's easy for us to dramatically reduce the cost of childcare," Sen. Christopher Murphy of Connecticut told Insider in an interview.


White House officials are now opening the door to restructuring part of the plan towards deficit-reduction, The Washington Post reported on Friday. The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.

Manchin has spoken favorably about the climate chunk of the package, which contains roughly $555 billion in spending on tax credits meant to pave a transition to greener energy. In the past he's also said he's "all-in" on universal pre-K as well, along with maintaining boosted Obamacare subsidies.

The conservative Democrat seemed to distance himself from affordable childcare, telling Insider on Thursday he wanted "nothing" to do with it.

With inflation on the rise, Democrats could prioritize measures meant to cap costs, such as establishing cost controls for prescription drugs.

"I think that may shape what makes the final cut, and the items that really have cost reduction capacity on the things that really hit people's pocketbooks are probably going to rise to the top of the to-do list," Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told reporters on Thursday.