WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday he cannot back his party’s signature $2 trillion social and environment bill, dealing a potentially fatal blow to President Biden’s leading domestic initiative heading into an election year when Democrats’ narrow hold on Congress was already in peril.

Manchin told “Fox News Sunday” that after five-and-a-half months of negotiations among Democrats in which he was his party’s chief obstacle to passage, “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.”

Manchin’s wording cracked the door open for continued talks with Biden and top congressional Democrats over reshaping the legislation. But the West Virginia senator all but said the bill would die unless it met his demands for a smaller, less sweeping package.

The bill would provide hundreds of billions of dollars to help millions of families with children by extending a more generous child tax credit, creating free preschool and bolstering child care aid. There is more than $500 billion for tax breaks and spending aimed at curbing carbon emissions, which experts consider the largest federal expenditure ever to combat climate change.

Other provisions would limit prescription drug price increases, create hearing benefits for Medicare recipients and bolster aid for the elderly, housing and job training. Nearly all of it would be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and large corporations.

In an unusually hardball response to a lawmaker whose vote is crucial in the 50-50 Senate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called Manchin’s announcement “a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position” and “a breach of his commitments” to Biden and congressional Democrats. She pointedly said that Manchin, whose state is among the nation’s poorest, “will have to explain” why many families will have to cope with higher health and child care costs the bill is intended to address.

Psaki said in a statement that Manchin had “in person” given Biden a written proposal last Tuesday that was “the same size and scope” of a framework for the bill that Democrats rallied behind in October, and agreed he’d continue talks. That framework had a 10-year cost of $1.85 trillion.

Manchin said he was opposing the bill due to his concerns about inflation, growing federal debt and a need to focus on the omicron COVID-19 variant. He accused Democrats in a written statement of trying to “dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face,” seemingly delineating an ideological gap between himself and his party.

Democrats dismiss Manchin’s assertions that the bill would fuel inflation and worsen budget deficits. They say its annual spending would be a tiny percentage of the country’s $23 trillion economy and have little impact on prices. Its job training, education and other initiatives would spur economic growth and curb inflation long-term, they say.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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(1) comment

Judd Grossman

Manchin is a hero on this issue. Divide up the bill into separate pieces and convince us that each piece is a good idea and worth driving us further into debt.

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