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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) walks to the Senate Chamber for a vote, Wednesday, December 15, 2021 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin were said to be sharply divided Wednesday over Democrats’ huge social and environment bill, with the holdout senator pushing to erase the measure’s improved child tax credit, as leaders’ hopes of passing the legislation before Christmas appear to be fading away.

The rocky state of their talks, which was only described by a person who is familiar with the talks under the condition of anonymity, was one indication that Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer will struggle to even begin discussion on the massive measure prior to the holiday. Schumer, D-N.Y., has set a goal for passage of the 10-year, roughly $2 trillion measure by Christmas, in hopes of finally concluding his party’s eight months of infighting over the package.

Many Democrats consider the expanded child tax credit the bill’s chief weapon in their effort to reduce child poverty, and one of the provisions most responsible for largely unifying Democrats behind the legislation.

Manchin told reporters that assertions he wants to strip the child tax credit provisions were “a lot of bad rumors,” adding that he’s “always been for child tax credits.”

Asked if he backed one of the bill’s child tax credit improvements — monthly checks sent to millions of families — he said, “I’m not negotiating with any of you.”

In another factor clouding the bill’s prospects, Biden suggested that Senate Democrats should instead prioritize voting rights legislation, a primary party goal that Republicans have long stymied. Democrats face an uphill fight on the voting measure, but focusing on it would let them wage a battle that energizes the party’s voters while lawmakers work behind the scenes on the social and environment bill.

Asked whether Congress should quickly consider the voting legislation and delay the $2 trillion bill to next year, Biden told reporters, “If we can get the congressional voting rights done, we should do it.” He added, “There’s nothing domestically more important than voting rights.” Biden spoke as he toured tornado damage in Dawson Springs, Kentucky.

All of this led to confusion in the Senate. Both rank-and-file senators and their aides claimed they didn’t know anything about the next legislation that the chamber would address, or when they would prevail.

Word of Manchin’s stance prompted a backlash from colleagues, whom he’s frustrated for months with constant demands to cut the bill’s size and scope. The bill also includes money for universal prekindergarten, climate change programs, and health care. It is largely funded by tax increases on the wealthy and big corporations.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said if “Mr. Manchin and the Republicans” want to tell beneficiaries of the child tax credit that they don’t need help, “Let them tell the American people that.” Sanders pointedly said “the people of West Virginia understand that working families are facing one crisis after another.”

Another impediment to Democrats is a time-consuming review by the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, about whether many of the bill’s provisions violate the chamber’s rules and should be dropped. Her written opinions regarding that, including provisions allowing many migrants to remain temporarily here in the U.S.A, may not be ready until Saturday or later.

Asked whether he would supply a pivotal vote to begin Senate debate on the legislation without rulings from MacDonough, Manchin said, “Everyone wants to see it, not just me.”

Biden and Manchin had spoken by telephone about the legislation at least twice during this week.

Manchin recently said he wants all programs in the bill to run for its full 10-year duration, but also that the measure’s price tag should total below $2 trillion. The legislation extends for one year the additional child tax credit benefits that would otherwise expire Dec. 31. They’re among the many temporary initiatives Democrats proposed to keep down costs.

The credit extension for one year would cost more $100 billion. It would cost more than $1 trillion to extend it over a decade, which would likely eat away at other Democratic priorities.

The bill increases maximum credit coverage, covers 17-year-olds, and allows benefits to be paid monthly instead of by annual refunds from IRS. According to the Treasury Department, 61 million children’s families have benefited.

Before the overall bill can come to the Senate floor, Schumer must resolve Manchin demands to curb the legislation’s cost and remove provisions he opposes, such as required paid family leave. There are many disputes among lawmakers about how to increase federal tax deductions for local and state taxes.

Schumer has set the Senate to be in session during the week of January 3, potentially giving lawmakers time to get back to work quickly on the bill. In election years, Congress is rarely in session in January.

In November, the House approved its version.

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