- Senate Democrats thought Manchin had ultimately dropped his demands for a work requirement on the Biden child tax credit.
- But he's said he hasn't budged at all on the issue.
- It's thrown the fate of Biden's big social and climate bill into chaos with no clear path to success.
Senate Democrats largely believed the heated clash around one of President Joe Biden's biggest economic priorities was behind them as fall turned to winter.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia imperiled the renewal of the expanded child tax credit in September when he started demanding work requirements as a condition for families to receive up to $300 in monthly checks per child, amounting to either $3,000 or $3,600 a year for younger kids. The program was put in place for a year under the stimulus law, transforming it into a near-universal cash benefit for parents until it expired in December.
Though the vast majority of congressional Democrats back renewing the program as it is, Manchin's desired change carried enormous consequences. Imposing a work requirement would shut out many families with little or no taxable income, significantly denting its anti-poverty effects.
But Democrats need his vote in order to pass the centerpiece of Biden's domestic agenda to expand childcare, healthcare, and combat the climate emergency over universal GOP opposition in the 50-50 Senate. Manchin came out against the $2 trillion package and it's now stuck in the mud.
To get Manchin to drop his push for a work requirement, Democrats and the White House made a huge compromise to try and get his support: They cut the planned extension for three years to only one, according to two Senate Democratic aides familiar with the matter. Both were granted anonymity to share details of private negotiations.
The concession was included in the framework that the White House ultimately released in late October after weeks of negotiations with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another Democratic holdout.
"I still do not understand what happened with this framework," one of the aides said. "And it being communicated to pretty much everyone that the reason we were only doing [one-year] CTC was because that was the only way he would agree to do the CTC without work requirements."
The Biden administration's attempt to dislodge the stalled package landed with a thud. Manchin never publicly endorsed the White House plan and continued to hold back his support until he ultimately blew up the House-approved bill in December. "I've tried everything humanly possible, I can't get there," he told Fox News.
"Senator Manchin has always supported the child tax credit and would like to see it targeted to those families who need it most," a Manchin spokesperson told Insider via email. The White House didn't respond to requests for comment.
Manchin's claim that he wants the neediest families to get the aid runs counter to the demands he's laid out, since a work requirement would block payments to the poorest families.
Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, one of the architects of the expanded benefit, has told Insider recently that he's unsure that he'll get Manchin's support despite personally lobbying him on the issue.
"I don't think I'll ever convince Senator Manchin on this until he actually sees it in effect, working in his state benefiting the people of West Virginia, as it's benefiting the people of Colorado," Bennet said in an interview last month. "That's a good reason for us to extend it for some years, so that we can see how it's working."
It's unclear what a potential compromise with Manchin could look like. Democrats could slash the size of the benefit so its cheaper or further restrict who can tap into the federal aid to satisfy his demands — but it still may not be enough to get him onboard.
If it fell out of the Build Back Better plan, it's also unclear whether a bipartisan deal could be struck with the GOP since they're wary of any tax hikes to pay for it. "No Republican, including myself, is going to say, 'Hey, I'm in favor of tax increases of any kind," Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the author of a competing child benefit plan, told Insider on Wednesday.