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Opinion Rep. Jayapal on what’s next: Tell us what you support, Sen. Manchin

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). (Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg)

So where are we on Build Back Better? The latest is this: After Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) publicly renounced support for the version that passed the House, President Biden reportedly talked with him and they generally agreed to resume negotiations next year.

Before declaring opposition to BBB, Manchin privately floated to the White House a framework to his liking: Enhanced Affordable Care Act subsidies and universal pre-K — but this time funded for 10 years, in keeping with Manchin’s opposition to funding more programs for shorter periods — and some form of hundreds of billions in spending on climate change.

Gone is the expanded child tax credit and many other things. So should Democrats accept that offer, to the degree that an offer even exists?

I put this question to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of House progressives. She noted that neither Manchin nor the White House has released this proposal publicly, and that House Democrats have no way of knowing key details.

However, Jayapal did seem to open the door to a way forward, though it’s a twisted and murky path.

Jayapal told me she contacted Manchin on Tuesday morning, and asked him to return to the original framework that Biden released in October, which laid out general goals: An expanded child tax credit for one year, ACA subsidies for four years, universal pre-K for six years, half a trillion dollars for climate, and more.

Biden had assured House Democrats that Manchin committed to this framework and that it would win 50 Democratic senators, Jayapal notes. But Manchin now denies that commitment.

So Jayapal told me she asked Manchin to take that framework and line it up next to the BBB that passed the House (which Manchin has rejected). She asked him to say what, specifically, in the House bill doesn’t match up with what Manchin did commit to in the framework (in his discussions with Biden), and to say what specifically in the framework he did not commit to and does not support.

The idea of this exercise, Jayapal said, is to create a baseline for future negotiations. “We need to move forward on as many parts of Build Back Better that we can get,” Jayapal told me.

Jayapal said Biden told her last week that something like this was the next step: That Biden intends to sit down with Manchin and go through the House bill and go over what Manchin did and did not commit to in the framework. (This was before Manchin blew everything up, but it may still be operative.)

This state of affairs is unlikely to satisfy those who want Democrats to immediately accept what Manchin has proposed (though again, this isn’t even public).

However, Jayapal seemed to open the door a crack, by acknowledging that there are certain things Manchin apparently will never support, such as continuing the expanded child tax credit.

“The question becomes, what do we do with those things?” Jayapal said. “Do we continue to try to push them into the bill?”

Another possibility, Jayapal suggested, might be for Senate Democrats to hold votes on each item, to get Manchin to commit one way or the other. That could lead to an endgame in which a stripped down BBB is negotiated.

When I asked Jayapal if Democrats should be prepared to accept a BBB that contains only a few provisions for 10 years, she said: “I’m not quite there yet.”

Instead, Jayapal invited Manchin to work from the House text and simply cross off what he cannot accept in it.

“Tell me what is not consistent with what you committed to before,” Jayapal said she is asking Manchin, “and let’s take those pieces out and then vote on a bill that has the rest of it.”

Manchin, of course, would reject this conception of the situation, arguing that he never did commit to that framework. And Jayapal’s way forward won’t satisfy those who want Biden and Democrats to proactively offer Manchin several versions of a stripped down BBB and see what Manchin will accept.

But that aside, this might be a starting point, especially if Biden gets into it with Manchin. After all, it doesn’t seem reasonable to insist that House Democrats rush headlong into a totally subservient position — Manchin did make some kind of assurances to Biden on his framework, though we don’t know exactly what — even if Manchin ultimately will decide what passes.

This might provide a more elliptical way to get to a stripped down BBB that passes, one that Democrats irked with Manchin can accept, even as they also accept that he’ll dictate the outcome.

Indeed, Jayapal was forthright about Manchin’s control over that outcome. As she told me: “We all understand that we need 50 votes, and he’s our 50th vote.”