Moderate Dem. coalition chair on the consensus, flashpoints in Biden social spending bill

The search is on among Congressional Democrats for a way to revive the Build Back Better legislative agenda after Sen. Joe Manchin’s blow to the bill as it stood. Given total Republican opposition, Democrats will have to decide what parts of the plan to scrap. Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington state is chair of the moderate "New Democrat Coalition" in the House, and joins Judy Woodruff with more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The search is on among congressional Democrats for a way to revive the Build Back Better legislative agenda, after Senator Joe Manchin said he would not support the bill in its current form. Since Republicans have opposed the legislation from the start, Democrats will have to decide among themselves what parts of the Build Back Better plan can survive.

    Joining us now is Representative Suzan DelBene of Washington state. She is chair of the moderate New Democrat Coalition in the House.

    Congresswoman DelBene, thank you very much for joining us.

    We know that Build Back Better has been a priority of President Biden from the beginning. Now we know it's not going to pass this year. Some people think it's dead. What do you think?

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA):

    I think we need to find a way forward. Our country faces too many challenges now. And the cost of inaction is too high.

    I think there are ways we can find a path to work together, and we're pushing to do that, and that's part of what our coalition is working on right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, how do you see it getting restarted after what's — I mean, this has been months and months and months, and then to come up short here at the end of December. How do you see it getting restarted?

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene:

    Well, one thing we have always talked about is making sure we are focused, focused on doing things well for longer, and really picking what our top priorities are.

    That's important because we want to make sure we have long-term, durable policy, and that folks understand the importance of what we have done in the Build Back Better Act. So I think, as we make sure we look at how we focus, that's a potential path forward, because Americans want to see governance work. They want to see us get things done, and we don't help anyone if we don't get legislation across the finish line.

    So that's the work we need to do, focus, make sure we have strong, durable policy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's talk about some specifics.

    I mean, there's been a lot of discussion around the child tax credit. And we know this is something you have supported. This is a bill, as it's now written, would provide something like $3,600 per child under the age of six, $3,000 for older children. It would lift four million American children above the poverty line.

    But Senator Manchin, the Republicans say the cost is too high. Some are talking about reducing those numbers to something like $3,000 and $2,500, keeping it refundable for the poorest of Americans, but cutting the household income eligibility level to below $400,000 a year.

    Is that something you would support?

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene:

    Well, first of all, I think the child tax credit, the expanded child tax credit that we put in place in the American Rescue Plan, has already proven to have an incredible impact across the country, 3.8 million children lifted out of poverty since checks started going out in July.

    Over three million families talking about being able to put food on the table, the families being able to afford to buy diapers, pay their bills, pay for housing, families talking about being able to go to work now that they have been able to afford child care.

    This is critically important. And I highlight that because this isn't a concept. It's actually working right now and has been working since checks started in July. So we need to keep it going.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we know Senator Manchin said he cannot support child tax credit in that form.

    And so my question is, are you looking at something that's either like what I described a moment ago or something similar to that?

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene:

    Well, I think these are the ongoing talks that we're having, because this is so important, because the data is so strong.

    He's talked about helping families address inflation. The child tax credit helps families do just that. We do get a great return on our investment, if you look at just the fiscal impact of the legislation. And you talked about refundability, making sure that the families who need it most are getting access to that credit. That would go away at the end of this year if we don't keep it going.

    But I also think one thing that Senator Manchin mentioned was the length of the — making sure we have long-term policy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene:

    I think that — I agree, and I think there's more we can do there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can you name one or two programs that you think you could afford to drop out of this package for now and come back to them later?

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene:

    Well, I'm the chair of the New Democrat Coalition.

    We came out with our priorities in the very beginning, because we talked about numbers or process, but, really, what matters is, what's the substance of the bill? Our priorities were the child tax credit, making sure we are — have a large investment in fighting climate, and making sure that we deep the Affordable Care Act premium subsidies in place and address the coverage gap.

    Those are three things right there that are top priorities. Are there other things we can do? Of course. But I think it's important for folks to come to the table and say what those top priorities are, so we can focus.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know that hasn't always been the case.

    The White House, in reacting to what Senator Manchin said on Sunday when he announced he couldn't vote for it, their response was pretty sharply worded. They called it a breach of his commitment. Do you think that was a mistake? Do you think that harms their ability to work with Senator Manchin in the 50/50 Senate, someone they're going to need for this and other issues?

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene:

    When we talk about actually getting things done, which is what's so critical here, we need 218 votes in the House and we need 50 votes in the Senate.

    That's what it takes. So every one of those votes is critically important. And to find that path forward means bringing folks together to gain that support. That has to be our focus. And we understand that that's going to be critical, because, again, we don't help anybody if we don't get policy done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You think this can be done in January?

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene:

    Well, I think that we have the opportunity to work together, to talk, to work specifically through issues.

    But it's too important and too critical for our country, for families, for our communities. I'm disappointed the child tax credit is expiring at the end of this year, and I would rather not see any type of gap in terms of checks going out. But we got to make this happen.

    So, we're at the table coming up with ideas to bring folks together and are going to keep pushing forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congresswoman Suzan DelBene of Washington state, thank you very much. We appreciate your joining us.

  • Rep. Suzan DelBene:

    Thank you.

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