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Biden concedes Build Back Better bill won’t get passed this year

President Joe Biden acknowledged Thursday that negotiations over his Build Back Better bill are poised to drag on into 2022 despite efforts and pledges by Democrats to get it done before Christmas.

“It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote,” the president said in a statement. He said that he spoke to Democratic leaders in Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, earlier Thursday and they plan to “advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead; Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible.”

With the holidays approaching and the Senate eager to leave town on Friday, however, a vote isn’t likely until after New Year’s Day.

The statement is a recognition that the president’s team has so far failed to persuade Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) to sign onto anything resembling the $1.75 trillion social spending and climate mitigation bill passed by the House of Representatives last month.

“In these discussions, Senator Manchin has reiterated his support for Build Back Better funding at the level of the framework plan I announced in September,” Biden said in his statement. “I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition.”

“My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week,” he added.

The drawn-out negotiations come at a vulnerable moment for the Biden presidency after months of anemic polling. The White House remains confident they will get a deal eventually but it is almost certain to be far short of their original ambitions, which included trillions more in spending and, among other things, free community college nationwide.

It’s unclear how much longer the negotiations will go on. Manchin has said that he believes many of the short-term programs in the House bill are budget gimmicks that hide the true cost of the bill. He has urged colleagues to include only 10-year programs in the final legislation to match the 10-year window on tax revenues. Manchin and Biden spoke twice on the phone this past week to try to find a way forward on the legislation but they remain far apart.

The White House has treated the Manchin relationship delicately and with more carrots than sticks. Biden has been careful not to put much external pressure on Manchin through public criticism, though his frustration has been growing.

Thus far, the president’s delicate approach has proven slow but effective, ultimately securing Manchin’s votes for the other large parts of Biden’s agenda, including the American Rescue Package and a $550 billion infrastructure bill that earned bipartisan support.

Biden is also limited by the fact that many of the traditional levers of power — potential primary challenges or pledges of presidential support — are less effective with Manchin, given that he is the only Democrat in the Senate to have won in a state that former President Donald Trump also won by 40 points.

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