A day after Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) stunned Washington by endorsing hundreds of billions of dollars for President Biden’s domestic agenda, House Democrats are rallying behind the nascent package as a crucial — if incomplete — strategy for tackling the climate crisis and easing working class economic strains .
Across the broad spectrum of the diverse caucus, Democratic lawmakers are praising the surprise arrival of Manchin’s proposal, saying it takes great strides to help ensure health care access, fight climate change and bring fairness to the tax code.
“This would be a really significant victory for the country,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who has sparred with Manchin for months over the fate of the bill. “I’m excited — I feel good about feeling excited today.”
The emerging legislation — which features $369 billion for new climate-minded energy programs and more than $450 billion in new tax revenue — represents only a fragment of the $2.2 trillion dollar package House Democrats had passed through the lower chamber last November. But with Manchin standing in the way of that Build Back Better legislation — and then repeatedly beating back a series of smaller packages in the months since then — Democrats of all stripes had been reluctantly resigned to the idea that November’s midterms would arrive without a deal.
Manchin’s announcement Wednesday that he’d struck an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) came as a thrilling shock to Democrats, providing a morale boost to a party that’s fighting to ease inflation, reverse Biden’s low approval ratings and generally improve its prospects in November’s elections, when Democrats are widely expected to lose control of the lower chamber.
“At this point in the game, we thought it was deeply buried in the ground. So to have it resurrected with, I think, more than people had expected to see, I’m happy with that,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), to form co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. “Having gone through ‘Mount Manchin’ is substantial.”
On Thursday afternoon, Schumer reached out to a number of House Democrats, detailing the specifics of the massive proposal and laying out the process by which they hope to get it to Biden’s desk in the coming weeks.
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), head of the Congressional Black Caucus, was among those lawmakers who spoke with the Senate Democrat leader. Afterwards, she predicted the proposal would sail through the House, saying she’d seen no signs of defects in the ranks.
“Everybody on my side would like more, but I think we’re at a very comfortable and good place for our constituents — and for us to vote on it,” she said. “I have not received any glaring flame that would make me concerned about people not being supportive.”
Members of the liberal squad — a group that’s forcefully pressed for an aggressive response to the climate crisis — also said they’re on board, despite a preference for a much larger package.
“I wish it was bigger overall, but I like it — actually really like it,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.). “In this place, if you can get 20 percent of what you want, that’s a big win. It’s a big win for the climate.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) offered a similar assessment. While she’s still digging through the details of Manchin’s proposals — and opposes certain provisions, like the revival of some offshore oil leases — Ocasio-Cortez said the package on the whole is “an overwhelmingly positive development.”
“From what we’re seeing, the progress on climate here far outweighs some of the negatives,” she said.
The Democrats are acknowledging that the proposal still has a long way to go to get to Biden’s desk. The legislative text still needs to be drafted, for instance, and Schumer will need the support of all 50 Democrats and Independents to move it through the upper chamber under the delicate reconciliation rules allowing him to sidestep a GOP filibuster. His effort to do so begins next week.
An early impediment could be Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), another centrist Democrat who has opposed a key provision of Manchin’s proposal: closing the carried interest loophole, which allows certain wealthy professionals, like hedge fund managers, to pay lower taxes than even much less paid workers. Sinema has not yet commented publicly on the legislation.
Another sticking point could be the cap on the federal deduction allowed for state and local taxes, known as SALT. Republicans, in their 2017 tax overhaul, limited that deduction to $10,000, drawing howls from those lawmakers representing high-taxed blue states, who have fought to lift that cap ever since — something Manchin’s proposal does not do.
Rep. Richie Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged that the SALT issue has always represented “a challenge” as Democrats sought to move Biden’s agenda — and that may still be the case as they seek to pass the Manchin-Schumer deal in the coming weeks.
Still, SALT-focused Democrats from the same region suggests the other tax provisions in the package effectively compensate for the absence of the specific SALT “fix,” and they’d likely support the proposal in its current form.
“Let’s see what the Senate actually does,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi (DN.Y.). “Right now they’re not touching the personal income taxes. If they don’t touch personal income taxes it doesn’t really raise the spectrum of SALT. So let’s see what they actually come up with.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell (NJ), another Democrat from a high-tax state, said he’s ready to “fight like hell” to get a SALT provision into the package. But acknowledging the unlikelihood of that change, he also indicated that he wouldn’t draw any red lines governing his support.
“I’m not going to hold up legislation at this point,” he said. “There are some very good things that have been negotiated.”
The enthusiastic reception from House Democrats across the caucus suggests the bill will have an easy time passing through the lower chamber, even with the Democrats’ slim majority and the high likelihood that no Republicans would support the proposal.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) suggests the timing of Manchin’s endorsement — after a year of frustrated inaction and just months before the midterms — has contributed to the vigorous show of support from Democratic lawmakers.
“We’re at a point where, if the things that are in it are positive steps forward, it’s hard to vote against something because of what’s not in it,” he said.
“I feel hopeful,” she said. “Let’s get it done.”