Image for Child Tax Credit Expires, Leaving Christmas Stockings Empty

President Biden appears to have given up on passage of his Build Back Better Act before the congressional holiday break – or at all, even as one of its key provisions, the child tax credit, expired last week just before Christmas.

Biden and Democratic supporters of the human infrastructure package also were disappointed to learn the Senate Parliamentarian nixed immigration provisions added in the House as non-germane to the Act’s legislative vehicle, budget reconciliation. The stricken provisions included work permits for immigrants in the United States since 2011, issuing unused family or employment visas and speeding up immigration processing.

The expiring childcare tax credit and jettisoned immigration provisions generate political disappointment in two key voter groups that Democrats seek to cultivate before the 2022 midterm elections. Biden’s approval rating has slipped in part because of his failure to deliver on campaign promises contained in the Build Back Better initiative.

Biden has routinely pitched his initiative in public speeches, but late last week he pivoted to tout election reform, which also is stalled in the Senate and represents another source of disappointment for key parts of the Democratic constituency.

Discontent is partially Biden’s fault because he campaigned on the premise he could negotiate compromises with Republicans on significant legislation. So far, he only has managed to convince Republicans to support a $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment package. The $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan to deliver pandemic financial relief didn’t receive any Republican votes. Republicans are lined up to oppose his Build Back Better proposal and have blocked Senate action on election reform. 

Biden also hasn’t been to win over some Democrats. To pass the Build Back Better Act under budget reconciliation, which is exempt from Senate filibuster procedures, Democrats need at least 50 votes. They can count on only 48. The most vocal holdout, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, thinks the legislation’s $2 trillion price tag is too high while inflation surges and he specifically questions expenditures for paid family leave and the child tax credit.

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin dealt President Biden’s a serious blow over the weekend when he announced on Fox News his opposition to the Build Back Better Act, despite having proposed a version earlier that influenced the House-passed legislation pending in the Senate.

Last March, congressional Democrats pushed through the American Rescue Plan that boosted the child tax credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under six), which sent millions of dollars in monthly installments to American families. Economists say the tax credit substantially reduced the number of children growing up in poverty. Expiration of the expanded tax credit threatens to plunge many of those children back into poverty, as well as intensify apparent dissatisfaction with Democrats for failing to extend it, especially as the COVID pandemic re-surges.

Election reform advocates inside and outside Congress have pressed Democrats to adopt rules exempting voting rights measures from Senate filibusters. Biden has frowned on the move and Senate Democrats may not have the votes to change the rules anyway. The pressure to exempt voting rights from the filibuster grew last week when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cut a deal that effectively exempted a $2.5 trillion increase in the federal debt ceiling from a filibuster.

Democrats have tried multiple approaches to effect immigration reform, but each time they have been struck down in the Senate as non-germane. They initially tried to legislate a path to citizenship for 8 million immigrants. Then they tried to grant legal residency through a registry. Both failed to pass muster with the Senate Parliamentarian. The third try, adopted in the House as a legislative Hail Mary, was criticized by immigration reform advocates as too little and too weak. Now, Democratic leaders are scrambling to find a whole new approach apart from budget conciliation, which is also likely to be stymied by the threat of a Senate filibuster.

Discontent is partially Biden’s fault because he campaigned on the premise he could negotiate compromises with Republicans on significant legislation. So far, he only has managed to convince Republicans to support a $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment package.

Moving into 2022 and midterm elections that will determine which party controls Congress, Democrats face the daunting challenge of explaining to their constituents that slim majorities are unable to pound through major legislation on their own, especially in the Senate. 

Prospects are dim next year for bipartisan compromises on major legislation that will be center stage in congressional campaigns across the nation. Election law restrictions enacted in red states may be sufficient to discourage Democrats who feel let down by Biden and a Democratically controlled Congress from going to the polls.

Prospects for Build Back Better took a further turn for the worse over the weekend when Manchin firmed up his opposition, despite previously proposing a $1.7 trillion package. “I tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there … This is a no.” Manchin made his comments on Fox News, drawing a sharp rebuke from the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated he will bring Build Back Better to the Senate floor by the holiday break to get everyone on the record.