In what could be a major blow to US President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, a key Democratic senator has said he will vote against the administration’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan.
"My concerns have only increased as the pandemic surges on, inflation rises and geopolitical uncertainty increases around the world," West Virginia US Senator Joe Manchin said in a statement on Sunday.
"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," he added.
Manchin said the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the bill at more than $4.5 trillion, adding: "They continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill."
The bill’s supporters dispute the CBO estimate, saying it unfairly ignores the benefits of the bill, which they say pays for itself.
Pointing out to other risks such as the omicron variant and rising tensions with Russia and China, Manchin argued that the bill would raise the US debt – another claim disputed by the bill’s supporters – which would hinder its ability to respond to those threats.
"If enacted, the bill will also risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains," he added.
With a razor-thin majority of only 50 in the 100-seat Senate – along with a vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, serving as the Senate’s president – and no votes from Republicans, Biden’s Democrats cannot pass anything without Manchin’s support.
In remarks drawing back the curtain at some of Democrats’ frustration with Manchin, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement saying his comments were at odds with his discussions with Biden last week.
"Senator Manchin cited deficit concerns in his statement. But the plan is fully paid for, is the most fiscally responsible major bill that Congress has considered in years, and reduces the deficit in the long run," she added.
She also said Manchin had pledged to continue working on the bill, a stance at odds with his sudden statement on Sunday, issued with little warning to the White House.