WASHINGTON — After months of haggling with President Joe Biden and other Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) dashed his party’s hopes on Sunday by announcing he wouldn’t vote for the Build Back Better legislation.
Publicly, his biggest gripes are about the cost of the bill. But privately, Manchin has told his colleagues that he essentially doesn’t trust low-income people to spend government money wisely.
In recent months, Manchin has told several of his fellow Democrats that he thought parents would waste monthly child tax credit payments on drugs instead of providing for their children, according to two sources familiar with the senator’s comments.
Continuing the child tax credit for another year is a core part of the Build Back Better legislation that Democrats had hoped to pass by the end of the year. The policy has already cut child poverty by nearly 30%.
Manchin’s private comments shocked several senators, who saw it as an unfair assault on his own constituents and those struggling to raise children in poverty.
Manchin has also told colleagues he believes that Americans would fraudulently use the proposed paid sick leave policy, specifically saying people would feign being sick and go on hunting trips, a source familiar with his comments told HuffPost.
Manchin’s office declined to comment for this story.
In a statement on Sunday, he said he opposed the Build Back Better agenda largely because of its cost.
“My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face,” Manchin said. “I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hard-working American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores and utility bills with no end in sight.”
Manchin’s refusal to support the bill likely means December’s child tax credit payment will be the final one for the 36 million households that have been receiving the benefits since July.
The credit pays $300 per child under 6 and $250 for kids under 18 for two-parent households earning less than $150,000 annually and single parents earning less than $112,000. Parents don’t need to have earned money or to owe taxes in order to qualify.
Manchin previously suggested Democrats should impose “work requirements” on all the social programs in Build Back Better, but he seemed to drop that demand after the White House released a framework of the legislation in October. The White House said the framework resulted from negotiations with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Low-income households that receive the credit have reported spending the money mostly on necessities like food, utilities, clothing and school supplies, according to monthly survey data from the Census Bureau. Four percent of households have reported using the money for “recreational goods” such as sports equipment or toys.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a top proponent of the child payments, said he had heard of Manchin’s remarks about the money going toward drugs but wasn’t paying any mind to it.
“The stories I hear the most, if you put it in categories, are child care, school supplies, college fund, phone bills,” Brown told HuffPost last week. “My focus is getting this program — which is the best thing Congress has done in 25 years — making sure it continues.”
“If Mr. Manchin and Republicans and anybody else who thinks struggling working families, who have a hard time raising their kids today, should not be able to continue to get the help ... they’ve got to come forward to the American people.”
The concern that some parents would use the benefit for drugs echoes years of conservative talking points on welfare. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans in Congress and state legislatures around the country sought to add drug testing to requirements to nutrition assistance, unemployment benefits and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides monthly cash benefits to poor parents.
More than a dozen states enacted drug testing policies from 2011 through 2017, resulting in less than 1% of applicants actually testing positive for drugs. States lawmakers have generally lost interest in the policy in recent years.
Since West Virginia launched its TANF drug screening program in 2017, just 131 applicants have tested positive for drugs ― a small fraction of the thousands of program beneficiaries. Nevertheless, state lawmakers this spring opted to continue the screening program for another five years. The puny number of welfare recipients kicked off the rolls might not save the state any money, but it sends a message: People on welfare can’t be trusted, and we’re making them prove they deserve help.
Manchin told HuffPost last week that he has always supported the child tax credit, but he refused to say whether he supported the version of it that Democrats were hoping to extend through 2022, calling the question “bullshit.” He later said that if Democrats want to continue the policy, they should do so for 10 years instead of just one.
Since the credit costs more than $100 billion per year, a longer extension would be costly, and it would force Democrats to drop other programs from the Build Back Better agenda. Democrats want their enhanced child tax credit to be permanent, but included a one-year extension to reduce the cost of the bill, arguing that it would be easy to extend the credit at a later time. Now the policy may expire after just six months.
Democrats’ frustration with Manchin began to boil over last week even before he announced he wouldn’t support the bill.
“If Mr. Manchin and Republicans and anybody else who thinks struggling working families, who have a hard time raising their kids today, should not be able to continue to get the help — that’s their view — they’ve got to come forward to the American people and say, ‘we don’t think you need help,’” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Thursday.