Senate Democrats may pull a switcheroo to punt Biden's big spending bill into 2022 in favor of a last ditch push for voting rights legislation

Senate Democrats may pull a switcheroo to punt Biden's big spending bill into 2022 in favor of a last ditch push for voting rights legislation
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., left, walks to the Senate Chamber for a vote, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, in WashingtonAP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
  • Senate Democrats may punt Biden's big spending plan into 2022 and push for voting rights, NBC News reported.
  • Sen. Joe Manchin has remaining concerns about the bill's provisions and how much would be paid for.

Senate Democrats' chances to pass President Joe Biden's Build Back Better economic agenda by Christmas were in renewed jeopardy on Wednesday, reflecting a brewing dispute between Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the White House about its true price tag. They may attempt to revive a stalled push on voting rights to salvage what's left of their legislating this year.

NBC News reported Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning on punting the $2 trillion social spending and climate package into 2022, and may instead pursue a final push to pass voting rights legislation. His office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Democratic leaders and the White House appear in a stalemate with Manchin, a key swing vote needed to pass the bill. All 50 Democratic senators must coalesce around the plan to clear it and sidestep fierce Republican opposition.

Manchin is opposed to large swaths of the bill, like a one-year extension of the bulked-up child tax credit. A source familiar with his thinking told Insider that its estimated $1.4 trillion cost over ten years ran up to Manchin's red-line on new federal spending.

He's also raised repeated concerns about the bill's impact on inflation and ensuring the bill's programs are fully covered by new taxes.


Biden said Wednesday he was open to clearing a voting rights bill first while visiting a site in Kentucky devastated by a tornado outbreak. "If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it," he said. "If we can't, we've got to keep going. There's nothing domestically more important than voting rights."

The gap remains wide. Discussions between Manchin and Biden on the bill "have been going very poorly," a source close to the situation told Politico, with the two leaders currently "far apart."

Delaying the package until next year deals a blow to Schumer and Senate Democrats, who strived to meet a self-imposed deadline for passage in 11 days. It amounts to a tacit admission that large parts of the legislation are still far from being settled. Democrats are still feuding over a planned expansion of Medicare benefits, a state and local tax break, and certain climate provisions. No bill text has been finalized.

With debate and negotiations set to drag into next year, it may deny Democrats a fresh legislative achievement to campaign on in the 2022 midterms.

"You can't sell the sausage if you're making the sausage," Jim Kessler, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide who is now executive vice president of policy at the Third Way think tank, told Insider. "Getting this done sooner rather than later is important because Democrats actually have a lot to run on."


Kessler argued that Manchin's opposition to move ahead with the legislation didn't amount to a death blow. "Joe Manchin knows it needs to pass," he said, adding that the bill was "critical" to ensure the success of Biden's presidency.

Many Democrats were blindsided by the possible switcheroo from Biden's Build Back Better plan to voting rights. "I've not been informed of that plan," Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranked Senate Democrat, told reporters.

"You need to talk to the leader about that," Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, one of the Senate Democrats working on voting rights legislation and member of the Budget Committee packaging the spending bill, told Insider when asked to confirm whether leadership was shelving the Build Back Better plan.

A new 'urgency' on voting rights

Senate Democrats may pull a switcheroo to punt Biden's big spending bill into 2022 in favor of a last ditch push for voting rights legislation
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., a key figure on voting rights efforts, speaking to reporters about Democrats' election legislation pushJ. Scott Applewhite/AP

Voting rights advocates are expressing increasing alarm over state-level Republicans passing laws that restrict voting opportunities, moving to further politicize election administration, and pursuing partisan reviews of the 2020 election first in Arizona and now Wisconsin.

"There is an urgency, obviously for the Freedom to Vote Act because of what's happening in the states, and I would say, Wisconsin," Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. "So I'm very, very focused on putting a stop to all the intimidation and threats that we're seeing in my state."


But Senate Democrats' window to pass any kind of meaningful voting rights and election reform legislation before the 2022 midterm elections is rapidly closing.

"I have been working on voting rights since May. I wanted it to happen a long time ago, and I want it to happen every day, so we'll get to it as soon as we have something that is firmed up," Kaine said.

All 50 Senate Democrats, including Manchin, support the Freedom to Vote Act, a wide-ranging voting rights and election reform bill, but Senate Republicans filibustered the measure in October. Both Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose entirely scrapping the Senate filibuster's 60 vote threshold or creating a carveout to allow Democrats to pass the bill along party lines, all but ensuring that a new effort remains a long shot.

Kaine is a member of a group of four key moderate Democrats working to come to an agreement on more modest Senate rules changes that Manchin could get behind. The group is exploring ideas like lowering the threshold needed to advance to debate on certain bills and amendments, and requiring senators to physically be on the Senate floor during a filibuster, Politico reported.

"I'm ready to do that, and I hope others are engaged," Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois told Insider about passing voting rights legislation. "I think it's really important that we really pass voter protections, knowing what's happening all across our country with voter suppression efforts everywhere."


"Voting rights is the timely issue that has to be dealt with right now," Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont told reporters.

'I thought that there was an agreement on this'

Senate Democrats may pull a switcheroo to punt Biden's big spending bill into 2022 in favor of a last ditch push for voting rights legislation
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., arrives for a vote in the U.S. Capitol.Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call

Baldwin, the Wisconsin Democrat, didn't say whether the Biden spending bill was being shelved into 2022 but noted the outstanding procedural kinks that need to be ironed out.

"​​The Build Back Better budget is being reviewed line-by-line to make sure that the House-passed version meets the very complicated Senate reconciliation rules," she told Insider. "And that process is out of our hands. It's a long bill and it's taking time, and so we can't bring it to the floor until that process is done."

However, punting the centerpiece of Biden's domestic agenda does carry consequences. Democrats strived to prevent an abrupt end to monthly child tax credit checks up to $300 per kid next month. Manchin denied reports on Wednesday that he's seeking to cut the program entirely.

"I'm very, very surprised because I thought that there was an agreement on this," Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado told Insider.


He went on: "It seems to me the last thing we should be doing at this moment of rising prices is raising taxes on working people in this country, which is what the effect of ending this policy would be."