Joe Manchin Has Just Handed Democrats a Nightmare Start to 2022

President Joe Biden's administration was optimistic it could transform the nation's social safety net upon taking office, but heading into 2022, the Build Back Better plan remains stymied by the tricky arithmetic of an evenly split Senate and Senator Joe Manchin.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had set a goal of Christmas for passing the 10-year, roughly $1.75 trillion measures, which included expanding Medicare, providing universal Pre-K, and funding initiatives tackling climate change.

But after months of infighting and the bill's price tag already slashed to accommodate Manchin, Biden has hinted that its passage may not be celebrated at the festive time of year.

Because it needs the backing of every one of the 50 lawmakers who vote for the Democrats to pass via the reconciliation process without GOP support, the opposition of the West Virginia lawmaker could upend the will of everyone who caucuses for his party.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) outside the U.S. Capitol Building on December 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Progressives blame him for holding up the Biden administration's Build Back Better act. Anna Moneymaker/Getty

Of immediate concern for progressive groups and lawmakers is the fate of the expanded child tax credit (whose sixth and final payment from December 15) of up to $300 per child has been an important source of funds for more than 35 million families.

Extending the child credit scheme by one year (which has lifted millions out of poverty) was among the provisions of the massive social package, but it clashed with Manchin's reservations about its price tag.

Manchin said it was "for child tax credits" but he wants it to be extended for 10 years not one, so the full cost of the scheme could be taken into account. However, lobby groups say many Americans face an uncertain future come January 15, 2022 if it is not renewed.

With Biden already lagging in the polls, getting an agreement with Manchin to ensure the social care and environmental package gets across the line is key to portraying the Democrats as delivering for voters, crucial going into a difficult mid-term race in 2022.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was clear who he blamed for the bill's delay, telling MSNBC that Manchin, and fellow centrist Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are "acting like Republicans" with their intransigence.

"If Democrats can't pass Build Back Better by the end of the New Year, progressives will certainly try to point fingers at Joe Manchin," said Thomas Gift, director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London.

"But any effort to lay the blame for inaction squarely on Manchin's shoulders forgets the full story of the last 11 months," he told Newsweek.

"In holding the infrastructure bill hostage, it was progressives who delayed, for an extended period, the signature plank of Biden's domestic agenda. For them to turn around now and scapegoat Manchin for dragging his feet just isn't persuasive."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who heads the powerful Congressional Progressive Caucus, had wanted to reach a deal over Build Back Better and the $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal in tandem. House progressives, led by Jayapal, did not want to support the infrastructure bill unless the safety net bill moved at the same time.

"From the outset, progressives knew they weren't going to get everything they wanted in Biden's massive proposed spending spree," said Gift.

"That Manchin seems to be one of the only Democrats willing to enforce a modicum of fiscal discipline on the party is hardly a surprise," he added.

With the Biden administration stumbling towards the end of its first year in power, 2022 presents an even trickier year. From February, households will have to make their first student loan payments in nearly two years since the America Cares Act paused them.

Also sharpening the political pressure is the fact that Biden said on the presidential campaign trail he would cancel $10,000 of student loan debt per borrower, but so far, this promise has not been fulfilled.

Democrats also want to target election reforms to roll back what it says are GOP attempts to limit who can vote across the country.

But in the short-term, progressives will focusing on one man.

"We must not undermine our power as a government nor the power of the people by placing the fate of Build Back Better at the feet of one Senator: Joe Manchin," Rep. Cori Bush (MO) said, according to the Associated Press.

Newsweek has contacted Manchin's office for comment.