U.S. Senator Joe Manchin dealt what seemed to be a fatal blow Sunday to President Joe Biden's massive social spending bill, saying he could not support the legislation's passage through the divided chamber.
The moderate Democrat's vote is crucial to getting the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill through the Senate, and Biden -- along with other senior Democrats -- has spent weeks trying to secure his support after it was green-lit by the House of Representatives in November.
"I can't vote for it and I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can't," Manchin, a senator from the predominantly Republican state of West Virginia, said on Fox News Sunday.
"I've tried everything humanly possible, I can't get there... This is a no."
The White House in a statement voiced frustration at the "sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position" and emphasized the senator had repeatedly pledged, including to the president, to negotiate on finalizing the bill.
Manchin considers the plan to be too expensive and argues it will further fuel inflation, which in November jumped 6.8% from the same period last year, its biggest gain since June 1982 as prices for gasoline, used cars, rent, food and other goods continued to climb, threatening the world's largest economy and Biden's public support.
In a statement on Sunday, 74-year-old Manchin, who has served West Virginia in the US Senate since 2010 and boasts of his record of working across the aisle with Republicans, reiterated his reservations over the bill.
Among them, he underscored the possibility of increasing the national debt, saying that would hamper the United States' ability to face rising inflation, the resurgent Covid-19 pandemic and mounting tensions with rivals Russia and China.
"My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face," he said.
Biden has said his proposal would not increase the country's debt, with the White House statement saying the bill "is fully paid for, is the most fiscally responsible major bill that Congress has considered in years, and reduces the deficit in the long run."
'Doesn't Have the Guts'
The bill aims to funnel funds toward lowering the cost of child care, prescription drugs and health care premiums, supporting the purchasing power of households and investing in the transition to clean energy.
Manchin's decision is a major blow to Biden, who has spent significant political capital in seeking to secure the passage of what is seen as a signature bill of his presidency.
Republicans in the divided Senate solidly oppose the legislation -- though it has polled extremely well across America -- meaning passage depends on every Democrat in the chamber supporting it.
The progressive wing of the Democratic party has bridled over the attention the White House has lavished on the moderate Manchin to win his backing for the bill.
Progressive Senator Bernie Sanders took a hard line responding to Manchin's "no," saying Democrats would take the bill to a vote despite his intransigence.
"I hope that we will bring a strong bill to the floor of the Senate as soon as we can and let Mr. Manchin explain to the people of West Virginia why he doesn't have the guts to stand up to powerful special interests," he said on CNN.
Biden on Thursday had admitted he probably wouldn't be able to push through the bill as quickly as he had hoped after tough talks with Manchin, dashing hopes of a definitive vote before the end of the year.
He maintained a note of optimism, however, saying, "I believe that we will bridge our differences."
The White House on Sunday said it would press Manchin to return to the table and "honor his prior commitments and be true to his word."
"The fight for Build Back Better is too important to give up. We will find a way to move forward next year."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2021