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Democrats are forced to regroup as Biden's signature spending bill stalls

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had said he hoped the Senate would vote on President Biden's spending bill before Christmas, but that plan has stalled.
J. Scott Applewhite
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had said he hoped the Senate would vote on President Biden's spending bill before Christmas, but that plan has stalled.

Updated December 16, 2021 at 7:23 PM ET

President Biden in a Thursday evening statement acknowledged the roadblocks his nearly $2 trillion social spending package faced, saying that it could take weeks before the package was ready for a vote. Still, he said he would continue to push for the bill to get enough Democratic support to pass through the Senate.

"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. We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead," Biden said.

The statement came after Senate Democrats appeared on the verge of abandoning their pledge to pass Biden's plan before Christmas.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had insisted over the past several weeks that the bill would pass the Senate before the holiday. But Democrats have been unable to convince Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the key holdout on the bill, to pledge his support.

Schumer avoided admitting defeat this week even as it became clear that plans for a vote were slipping.

"The bottom line is there are good discussions going on," Schumer told reporters on Wednesday. "We are moving with progress."

But by Thursday afternoon, little progress had been made.

Biden said he had spoken to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer and briefed them on discussions he and his staff have had with Manchin.

"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. "I believe that we will bridge our differences and advance the Build Back Better plan, even in the face of fierce Republican opposition."

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., downplayed the severity of the delay for the bill.

"I don't think it's going to be before Christmas," Kelly said. "But you know it shouldn't be, it should be when we're ready."

"It's likely to be one of the first things to take up after the holidays," he added.

Democrats still can't get Manchin's support

The months-long struggle stalled out in the Senate after House Democrats mustered the votes to pass a version of the bill last month. The bill was snarled in familiar fights between Manchin and virtually every other member of his party over the cost of the bill and plans to significantly expand the social safety net.

Democrats hope to pass the legislation using a feature of the budget process, known as reconciliation, that would allow them to avoid a GOP filibuster and pass the bill with a simple majority. That requires unanimous support within their party, giving holdouts like Manchin veto power over the entire bill.

Manchin has raised concerns about a number of elements of the bill but his latest objections were related to the cost of the child tax credit. The American Rescue Plan, which was approved without GOP votes earlier this year, expanded the credit to reach more low-income families, increased the overall value of the credit and turned a portion of the credit into an monthly payment of up to $300 per child.

That expansion is set to expire at the end of the year.

Democrats planned to extend the monthly payments for one year but Manchin has raised concerns about the total cost, particularly if Democrats eventually try to make the changes permanent.

"I'm not opposed to the child tax credit," Manchin said in a testy exchange with reporters this week. "I've never been opposed to the child tax credit."

But Manchin has refused to publicly commit to what specific changes to the bill or the credit would satisfy him enough to win his support.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.