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If there’s no Build Back Better, things will be worse for America, and the planet

President Joe Biden’s signature legislative initiative may have been dealt a fatal blow when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he won’t support it.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is followed by reporters as he leaves a caucus meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol Building on Friday in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

To get an idea of what is at stake in President Joe Biden’s torpedoed Build Back Better legislation, it’s worth taking a look at a small part of it, the Climate Conservation Corps.

The Climate Conservation Corps, which grew out of an idea in Illinois and is based on the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, would both give jobs to people who need them and send them out across the country to do all-important eco-friendly work. It would do its bit to save the planet and improve the lives of working people.

The House version of Build Back Better included $30 billion for the Climate Conservation Corps. So did the drafts of the legislation in the Senate. The reality of today’s Congress is that a bill like the Climate Conservation Corps could never pass as stand-alone legislation, but must be incorporated into something larger.

But now it appears Build Back Better, Biden’s signature legislative initiative, may have been dealt a fatal blow because Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., now says he won’t support it. The possible loss of the Climate Conservation Corps, which would have been one piece of the effort to forestall environmental disasters due to climate change, shows how Congress’ apparent failure will impose heavy costs on all Americans in the long run.

The White House and members of Congress who care about the country and the world must figure out how to get the bill back on track.

Paying for the child tax credit

Build Back Better is a $2 trillion measure with funding for health care, education, climate initiatives and other priorities. Among the bill’s provisions would be negotiating down the price of prescription drugs; providing home health care for the elderly and disabled; adding dental care, eyeglasses and hearing aids to Medicare, and raising taxes on the wealthy. The bill also would overhaul the tax code to bring in $1.5 trillion over 10 years to pay for the legislation.

Among the reasons Manchin gave for not supporting the bill is that Congress didn’t figure out how to permanently pay for the federal child tax credit and instead extended it for only a single year. To Manchin, that looks like budgetary legerdemain. Manchin said he wants the bill to go through Senate committees and focus on rolling back the 2017 Trump tax cuts.

But privately, Manchin had expressed concern that parents might use their child tax credits to buy drugs, and that some people might abuse the paid leave time provided for in the bill to go hunting during deer season, NBC News reported. Those sorts of cockeyed objections make us wonder how serious Manchin really was about supporting this bill and helping everyday Americans get back on their feet.

Because the Senate has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking tie votes, Manchin’s defection sinks Build Back Better, at least for now. No Republicans are publicly supporting Build Back Better, which is inexcusable. The Republican Party is not proposing significant legislation of its own to address any of the important issues Build Back Better is designed to fix.

That puts the focus on Manchin. By saying he will not support Build Back Better, it kicks the legislation over, in the best-case case scenario, to the 2022 election year, when it becomes harder to enact significant legislation. In the worst-case scenario, Build Back Better is dead.

The environment is only one area that got bad news from Manchin. Goldman Sachs cut its U.S. economic forecast after Manchin’s rejection. The West Virginians who support the measures in Build Back Better learned they will be left out in the cold.

Originally, Democrats wanted to spend $3.5 trillion over 10 years on the legislation, but cut it back because Manchin said he didn’t want to spend that much, insisting that he didn’t want to spend much more than $1.5 trillion.

On Monday, Senate President Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sent a letter to members saying he will put the bill to a floor vote so “every member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television.”

That left some supporters of the legislation wondering if a Republican such as Susan Collins, R-Maine, or Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, might support the bill. Theoretically, Democrats could meet Manchin’s objections by finding more ways to pay for Build Back Better. But that runs into opposition from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who doesn’t want to raise the corporate tax or other taxes on the wealthy.

For America’s sake, let’s hope’s there a chance to build back Build Back Better.

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