Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), a longtime critic of inflationary policies in Washington, blasted the White House and congressional leaders for not doing enough to stem the tide of rising inflation, potentially endangering Democrats’ hopes of passing a scaled-down version of the Build Back Better (BBB) social spending package.
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On July 13, the Department of Labor released its latest Consumer Price Index (CPI), showing that consumer prices have gone up by 9.1 percent over the past year, exceeding predictions and hitting a new 40-year high.
The CPI showed that energy has been the hardest hit, with costs rising by around 41.6 percent across the board for all types of energy. Gasoline prices have risen by a staggering 98.5 percent.
Other essentials have also been hard hit: in the past 12 months, the cost of food has gone up an average of 10.4 percent.
In a July 13 statement, Manchin, who has long been vociferous in calling for his party to do more to combat inflation, said: “Today’s inflation data illustrates the pain families across the country are feeling as costs continue to rise at a historic rate. 9.1% is cause for serious concern.
“Items like chicken, eggs and lunchmeat have increased to all-time highs, while energy costs rose more than 40% in June with those that can least afford it suffering the most. It is past time we put our country first and end this inflation crisis.
“For more than a year, leaders in Washington have ignored the serious concerns raised by myself and others about the rising cost of inflation,” Manchin continued. “While Washington seems to now understand this reality, it is time for us to work together to get unnecessary spending under control, produce more energy at home and take more active and serious steps to address this record inflation that now poses a clear and present danger to our economy.
“No matter what spending aspirations some in Congress may have, it is clear to anyone who visits a grocery store or a gas station that we cannot add any more fuel to this inflation fire,” he concluded.
The statement could spell trouble for Democrats who hope to pass through a scaled-down version of the BBB, which originally failed over Manchin’s concerns about inflation in December 2021.
In December, after months of scrambled negotiations with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Manchin dashed Democrats’ hopes when he said he wouldn’t vote for the package amid continued concerns about inflation.
Since then, some Democrats have made efforts behind the scenes to push for a revival of the package. Although Manchin has been loosely involved in these negotiations, they’ve only recently gained traction, winning the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who’s now making a desperate push to reach a scaled-down agreement on BBB before the end of the summer.
But any such package is far from close to being ready, according to Manchin spokesperson Sam Runyon.
“Suggestions that a reconciliation deal is close are false. Sen. Manchin still has serious unresolved concerns, and there is a lot of work to be done before it’s conceivable that a deal can be reached he can sign onto,” Runyon said.
A particular focus of Democrats with the package has been on climate policy.
Many Democrats have pushed for tax credits for clean energy manufacturing, taxing methane emissions, and a new tax on carbon-intensive imports such as steel. However, this newest inflation report could make Manchin hesitant to accept any such new spending, particularly as his concerns continue to remain unresolved about the proposed package itself.
To pay for these policies, Democrats have pushed for a repeal of several provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—a proposal that the moderate Sinema isn’t enthusiastic about.
During the last round of BBB negotiations, several sources reported that Sinema—who generally declines to comment on her policy positions during negotiations—was opposed to re-hiking the corporate and income tax rates from their post-2017 levels.
It isn’t clear if Sinema maintains her opposition on this front. But if she does, it could put another kink in Democrats’ aspirations to fund the measure.
The legislation also faces potential challenges from Republicans.
On July 7, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) renewed an earlier threat to tank the bipartisan United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), a measure designed to increase U.S. competitiveness with China.
The House and Senate have each passed their own versions of the legislation, and bicameral committees are currently working to hammer out the differences between the versions passed by each chamber.
The White House and Senate alike are anxious to see the competitiveness legislation passed, further heightening the challenges that Democrats could face in moving ahead with a scaled-back BBB.