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Opinion Manchin’s effort to kill the expanded child tax credit is getting more absurd

Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia. (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The fate of the Build Back Better bill suddenly looks very precarious, now that Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) has offered up new objections to it. But this time, the arguments coming from the West Virginia Democrat’s camp are so dubious that you have to ask whether he’s actually trying to kill BBB by slow-walking it to death.

Manchin’s latest objections center on the expanded child tax credit (CTC). This policy has been sending checks of up to $300 to most American families, phasing it down at higher incomes, after the covid-19 rescue package expanded the original version.

The expanded CTC is set to expire at the end of this year, and the BBB would extend the expanded CTC for another year, through 2022. In its current form it has already slashed child poverty and would continue doing so if extended.

Manchin’s objection now, as The Post reports, is to this fact — that the expanded CTC sunsets after one year. His opposition isn’t to the CTC specifically. It’s that Manchin sees the sunsetting of the CTC — and the other BBB policies, which also sunset at various times to keep BBB’s cost down — as artificial budget gimmickry.

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Instead, Manchin reportedly believes, we should presume the programs will last 10 years, in keeping with the bill’s time window as part of the Senate reconciliation process. Once we do that, Manchin fears, with the expanded CTC the cost of BBB would balloon far beyond his $1.75 trillion limit.

So Manchin seems to object both to the total 10-year cost, and to the fact that this assumed 10 year extension isn’t offset with future pay-fors, such as new tax hikes. And thus BBB is in peril.

It’s true, as Manchin says, that sunsetting programs to keep costs down is gimmicky. It’s also true that it’s possible political pressure will be such that those programs do end up getting extended.

But ultimately, this is an absurd rationale for withholding support for BBB.

First, let’s revisit why the expanded CTC sunsets after one year. It isn’t just to bring the overall cost down. The sunsetting is also happening because of … Joe Manchin III.

Back in October, Manchin was objecting to the expanded CTC on the apparent grounds that it constituted a too-generous welfare program. As you’ll recall, Manchin wanted to means-test the expanded CTC and pair it with a work requirement. That would have functionally gutted what’s so good about the policy, as some Democrats pointedly noted.

At that point, many Democrats also wanted to extend the expanded CTC for far longer than one year or even make it permanent. But as CNN reported at the time, Biden agreed that it would be extended only one year for the purpose of satisfying Manchin’s concerns about BBB’s cost (as well as those of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona).

So the limiting of it to one year was done to make Manchin happy. And it seemed at the time that this had satisfied Manchin’s concerns. Now it’s the source of another one of his objections.

Here’s something else worth considering. If Manchin doesn’t want the expanded CTC extended beyond one year (with or without any new pay-fors), guess who can stop that from happening? Joe Manchin III can.

Future congresses will decide whether these programs are extended. Which means Manchin will be able to vote against extending the expanded CTC at the end of next year. In a 50-50 senate, even if the program is extended right now, he can stop it from getting extended again.

“Manchin would retain his ability to kill efforts to extend it, if it’s not paid for to his satisfaction,” Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann told me. “Therefore he has no excuse for not supporting the one-year extension. If he doesn’t want it to go beyond one year, he’ll be in a position to keep that from happening.”

So Manchin’s various rationales just don’t add up. Unless his bottom line is that he just doesn’t want to extend the policy no matter what — or even worse wants to kill all of BBB — and is just looking for an excuse to do so.