Joe Manchin’s current hostages: Universal pre-K and affordable elder care

Joe Manchin’s current hostages: Universal pre-K and affordable elder care
Sen. Joe Manchin III image via Screengrab

After months of negotiation, and a massive amount of compromise by President Joe Biden and congressional progressives trying to come up with a Build Back Better bill that would get the votes of conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the White House last week released a revised policy framework. It sharply reduced the agenda Biden had previously laid out … and Manchin is holding it hostage. Again.

It's easy to focus on the negotiations—the constant up and down of Manchin reentering negotiations and better Democrats than him seeming to believe they're getting somewhere on a deal with him, only to have Manchin come out and blow it up again with his signature blend of self-righteousness, dishonesty, and sheer dopiness—and it's essential to do that, to know where there might be leverage or opportunities for truly transformative legislation. But we also need to talk about what it is that Manchin's holding hostage here because this affects many people and families with caregiving responsibilities in particular.

When the White House released its framework, The New York Times' invaluable Claire Cain Miller gave a rundown of what it would do for families should it be passed into law. More people need to know about this.

Build Back Better would include universal pre-K for all three- and four-year-olds. That in itself is huge, providing two years of early childhood education for families that currently have to pay for child care until their children turn five and go to kindergarten. (Some states and cities do already have universal pre-K.) Teachers would get pay equivalent to what elementary teachers with the same credentials get. There would be a phased-in requirement for lead pre-K teachers to have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, both moves that would potentially raise the standard of care.

But the draft legislation would benefit families with younger children, too, by subsidizing child care. Many families would get free child care, while families earning up to 250% of their states' median incomes would pay no more than 7% of their income.

Both of those programs would be funded for six years. The expanded child tax credit, by contrast, would get only one more year of funding. That tax credit, which was included in the American Rescue Plan, lets all but the wealthiest families with children get a child tax credit maximum increased from $2,000 to $3,600, and get it monthly rather than in a lump sum after filing their taxes. It also became fully refundable so that even families with very low incomes could get the full credit. According to Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy, 3.5 million children were lifted from poverty with the first two payments alone. This program should be permanent, but extending it for one year is … well, it's more than nothing. According to the draft legislation, though, the child tax credit would remain fully refundable so low-income families could at least continue getting something.

The Biden Build Back Better framework also expands affordable care for elders and people with disabilities and improves working conditions for the home care workers they rely on. What would be big for working-age adults who are trying to care for their aging parents, often at the same time as they raise children.

There is so much that is not here anymore thanks to Manchin and Sinema and—let's never, ever forget—every single Republican. Paid family and medical leave should be here, but instead, conservatives are committed to keeping the United States as one of just six countries in the world not to offer it. The child tax credit expansion should be permanent. Free community college should be here.

The vast majority of Democrats are trying to do the right thing for U.S. families, provide needed care for young children and seniors alike, help parents struggling to hold jobs and raise children and care for their aging parents, and expand education to young children and young adults. A couple of Democrats are joining every Republican in blocking that right now. But don't lose sight of what should be possible here.

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