- Sen. Joe Manchin said he is not holding talks with top Democrats on the Build Back Better Act, a $1.75 trillion investment in social programs and climate policy.
- Manchin, whose vote Democrats need to pass the bill, said last month that he would oppose it.
- The senator, a conservative Democrat, has not closed the door on additional talks, and indicated that it may be "much easier" to reach an agreement on climate policy than on other provisions.
Sen. Joe Manchin has not had any talks about reviving President Joe Biden's proposed investments in social programs and climate policy since he torpedoed the Build Back Better Act, Manchin said Tuesday.
The West Virginia Democrat said in December that he would oppose the House-passed bill, his party's top priority. Speaking to reporters as the Senate returned for the new year, Manchin said he has not reengaged in discussions about the plan.
"There is no negotiations going on at this time," he said, adding that he feels "as strongly today" as he did in December about his concerns that the plan could exacerbate high inflation.
Later Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the pair talked at least briefly about the Build Back Better bill while the Senate was on its holiday break.
"I talked to Sen. Manchin numerous times during the break," Schumer told reporters. "Most of the discussions were on voting rights, but we did touch on BBB and I believe the Biden administration will be having discussions with Manchin with his cooperation and participation on BBB as we move forward."
Biden and Manchin spoke about two weeks ago, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, but she did not say whether they planned additional talks.
Manchin's comments underscore the challenges facing the floundering legislation. Schumer cannot pass the bill without winning over Manchin and every other lawmaker in his 50-member caucus, as every Republican senator opposes it.
While the West Virginia senator's opposition last month ended his party's hopes of passing the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act before the end of 2021, some Democrats hoped they could get Manchin to support a smaller version of the bill this year. While Manchin said he has not restarted talks with party leaders yet, it does not mean negotiations have ended for good.
Manchin and Biden spoke after the senator announced his opposition to the bill, NBC News reported last month. The senator also joined a Democratic caucus call about how to proceed with the legislation and mostly listened, according to NBC.
Schumer insisted Tuesday that talks would continue until the Senate can pass a version of the plan.
"Off the floor, the negotiations will also continue with members of our caucus and with the White House on finding a path forward on Build Back Better," he said on the Senate floor. "As I mentioned before Christmas, I intend to hold a vote in the Senate on BBB. And we'll keep voting until we get a bill passed."
Democratic leaders see the bill's passage as critical to showing voters they can govern before the midterm elections in November. They also hope the plan's policies, from an enhanced child tax credit to Medicare expansion, child-care subsidies and universal pre-K, will have a tangible effect on households in the months after it passes.
Getting there will likely require painstaking talks over what parts of the plan Manchin would support. He has already expressed skepticism about the bill's price tag and inclusion of the strengthened child tax credit.
Complicating matters, the last round of talks appeared to have left Manchin and White House officials with a bitter taste in their mouths. The Biden administration accused Manchin of reneging on his support for a $1.75 trillion legislative framework announced last fall. The West Virginia senator pushed his party to cut the bill's initial $3.5 trillion price tag in half.
Manchin never publicly endorsed the agreement. Asked Tuesday if he was open to restarting negotiations, Manchin said, "I've never turned down talks with anybody."
While the senator has criticized the structure of social programs in the bill, he sounded optimistic Tuesday about the prospect of reaching an agreement on climate provisions. Before talks fell apart last month, Manchin and the White House reportedly were not far from a deal that would invest more than $500 billion in clean-energy initiatives.
"The climate thing is one that we can probably come to an agreement much easier than anything else," he said.