The Biden agenda keeps running into Joe Manchin

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While President Joe Biden made headlines Friday for a controversial fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, long-running domestic issues resurfaced as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced ambivalence about yet another Democratic-led spending bill.

Manchin, often a thorn in the side of liberals thanks to his refusal to cement Democratic legislation in the 50-50 Senate, announced he won’t support provisions in economic legislation that would allocate spending toward climate change or increase taxes for the wealthy.

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“Political headlines are of no value to the millions of Americans struggling to afford groceries and gas as inflation soars to 9.1%,” Sam Runyon, a spokeswoman for Manchin, told the Washington Post. “Sen. Manchin believes it’s time for leaders to put political agendas aside, reevaluate, and adjust to the economic realities the country faces to avoid taking steps that add fuel to the inflation fire.”

Though Manchin later walked those statements back a bit, saying he only wanted to see July’s inflation numbers before signing off on green energy items in the spending bill, his stance still imperils legislation backed by Biden that is running out of time to pass before the current Congress adjourns for good.

Biden responded by releasing a statement promising to take executive action regarding climate change if Congress doesn’t act.

“If the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment,” Biden said. “My actions will create jobs, improve our energy security, bolster domestic manufacturing and supply chains, protect us from oil and gas price hikes in the future, and address climate change. I will not back down: the opportunity to create jobs and build a clean energy future is too important to relent.”

However, Biden may struggle to act on his own. Courts have already struck down many of his executive actions, including one reining in the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions without explicit approval from Congress.

Manchin’s move and the uncertainty it creates may imperil another Biden goal, one of the four steps he outlined to combat 40-year-high inflation. Earlier this week, the president called on Congress to pass legislation that would affect the costs people pay for items such as prescription drugs and health insurance premiums. Congressional inaction would itself put this idea in danger, and Manchin may oppose it specifically if it involves new spending that could fuel further inflation.

Biden made a similar call in his Friday statement for legislation to lower prescription drug costs, which he pitches as a way for consumers to deal with higher inflation.

“After decades of fierce opposition from powerful special interests, Democrats have come together, beaten back the pharmaceutical industry, and are prepared to give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices and to prevent an increase in health insurance premiums for millions of families with coverage under the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “Families all over the nation will sleep easier if Congress takes this action. The Senate should move forward, pass it before the August recess, and get it to my desk so I can sign it.”

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Manchin, considered the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, has frustrated many of his party compatriots since Biden took office in January 2021, most famously torpedoing the $3.5 trillion Back Better Act in December. But he has signaled that he is open to continuing negotiations on other portions of the current reconciliation bill, including provisions that would lower prescription and health insurance costs.

Reporters have at times questioned Manchin’s sincerity, with one asking White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday if the West Virginia senator was “on the level” and another asking Biden later in the day if Manchin is “negotiating in good faith.”

Democratic strategist Michael Stratton emphasized that Manchin and Biden are much more aligned than is sometimes reported, with many more similarities than differences. He still believes the two will work with other Democrats to get meaningful legislation passed before the end of the year.

“It seems to me that Manchin’s concerns are the president’s concerns — it’s inflation,” he said. “Manchin is talking about some pretty significant stuff here. Extending the Affordable Care Act is huge. Let’s deal with that, and then let’s check back before we go home for the campaign season and see how the economy is responding. Anything that helps inflation go down helps Biden.”

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