Jim Clyburn, Joe Manchin Join Hands On Means-Testing The Child Tax Credit

Democrats are taking tiny steps toward a compromise on a key part of the stalled Build Back Better Act.

A high-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives called for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to pitch his colleagues on a more “means-tested” version of the child tax credit, the policy that paid most American parents hundreds of dollars per child last year.

“I would like to see [Manchin] come forward with a bill for the child tax credit that’s means-tested,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said during an interview Thursday with The Washington Post Live. “I think it would pass. You could get it through the Senate. I think you could get it through the House. ... There is a lot in Build Back Better that he says he’s for, so let’s do that.”

Means-testing refers to applying stricter rules for providing benefits to people based on their income.

Top Democrats have suggested they’d be willing to cut a deal with Manchin to bring back the monthly payments, but they’ve generally avoided embracing stricter eligibility rules the way Clyburn did Thursday. And Senate Democrats didn’t mention any possibility of compromise earlier this week when they sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to continue supporting the child tax credit.

Calls for Manchin to make clear what policies he’s prepared to support haven’t advanced things so far. The two chambers are reportedly closest to agreeing on portions of the bill dealing with climate.

The Build Back Better plan included a one-year extension of the benefits program, which ended earlier this month. Democrats are hoping to revive the social spending and climate bill in the coming months, but its fate ultimately rests with Manchin. The conservative Democrat has expressed concerns about its cost and even told colleagues he thought parents would waste monthly child tax credit payments on drugs.

Yet, Manchin went out of his way to talk about the child tax credit in a separate interview on Thursday after a West Virginia radio host asked whether any negotiations were taking place among Democrats about the Build Back Better Act.

“West Virginians that make $75,000 or less should be the highest priority we have,” Manchin told the host on MetroNews Talkline. “They have it up to $200,000 for an individual and $400,000 for families. That’s a lot of money that we’re putting out, but I think it’s more needed in a targeted basis I call ‘means-testing.’”

Manchin was mixing up two different eligibility thresholds for two different versions of the credit. Last year, Democrats increased the credit’s maximum value to $3,600 per child for two-parent households earning under $150,000 annually, and they told the IRS to pay the money in advance monthly installments. While that boosted version of the credit lapsed at the beginning of this year, the $2,000 version of the credit remains with the eligibility thresholds that Manchin described, just no advance monthly payments and no benefits for people without income.

Democrats have seemed more open to compromise by considering excluding wealthier households from benefits rather than poorer ones, but Manchin has suggested that he would insist on denying benefits to both.

Still, the fact that Manchin is talking about child tax credit changes at all might be good news for Democrats, especially after Biden suggested last week that there’s not much hope he’ll be able to bring back the extra benefits.

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