Manchin suggests: I'm not tweaking the filibuster to raise the debt ceiling -- and I'm still at $1.5 trillion on reconciliation

This has to be an all-time top 10 “Manchin breaks Democrats’ hearts” press conference. Stiffing progressives on the reconciliation bill and stiffing Schumer on changing the filibuster to raise the debt ceiling?

It might even be top five.

I used the word “suggests” in the headline because one never can tell what Manchin’s willing to do day to day. Yesterday it sounded like he was ready to come up to around ~$2 trillion on the reconciliation infrastructure bill as a concession to progressives:

At today’s presser, it seemed like he was back at his original number of $1.5 trillion:

The leftists in Pelosi’s House caucus have been adamant that they’re not coming down to $1.5 trillion. Maybe they’d be willing to meet Manchin in the middle at around $2.2 trillion but if he’s firm on his number — and again, his position may change tomorrow — then the reconciliation bill may be on life support.

Is he also firm on not altering the filibuster to allow a debt-ceiling hike on a simple majority vote? Because that’s how he sounded in his other news-making comments to reporters this morning:

He says he won’t amend the filibuster, but he also says that America cannot and will not default. What if he ends up having to break one of those promises to keep the other? Senate Republicans really, really, really don’t sound like they’re willing to make a deal to raise the debt ceiling:

“They basically want us to be aiders and abettors to their reckless spending and tax policies, and we just aren’t going to do it,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.)…

Asked what might happen if Schumer is correct — and Republicans’ procedural demands do prevent Congress from raising the debt ceiling by the Oct. 18 deadline — [GOP Sen. Kevin] Cramer stressed that the blame remains squarely on the Democrats.

“Then too bad,” Cramer said. “It’s just really, really unfortunate that they’re that irresponsible.” He later said he did not think the country would breach the debt ceiling, adding, “I don’t think anybody wants that to happen.”

One concern is that even if Schumer bows to Manchin’s wishes and proceeds with reconciliation to raise the debt ceiling, the U.S. will still take a hit for its brinksmanship. “We’re on the precipice now of a cliff and any day now you could have a downgrade in our national credit rating. So time is of the essence,” said Democrat Chris Van Hollen. Mindful of that, McConnell is dangling a concession at Schumer that would help him speed up the process if he capitulates to Manchin’s (and McConnell’s) position by starting reconciliation:

Schumer’s going to have his arm twisted by lefty activists not to give in, though, and not just because the left wants to win this staring contest with McConnell. If he continues to hold off on reconciliation until procedurally it becomes impossible to raise the debt ceiling before the October 18 deadline, the pressure on Manchin and Sinema to reluctantly carve out an exception to the filibuster for raising the ceiling will grow enormous. If they eventually buckle, progressives will have a foot in the door of getting rid of the filibuster altogether — at least for their own pet legislation. “Senate Democrats are hurtling toward an easy choice,” said a spokesman for the anti-filibuster group Fix Our Senate to the NYT. “Allow Senator McConnell to crash the economy or finally tackle the outdated and abused Senate filibuster that gives him the power to do so.”

The instant Manchin agrees to make a filibuster exception for the debt ceiling, he’ll be bombarded with criticism from the left that the only reason he won’t also do it for a voting-rights bill is because he’s a racist. Go figure that he doesn’t want to hand them that rhetorical leverage.

If McConnell won’t bend on cloture and Manchin won’t bend on amending the filibuster and Schumer won’t bend on reconciliation, then, uhhhhhh…

We can always mint the coin, I guess.

The prospect of America defaulting voluntarily for pigheaded reasons when we could have easily avoided doing so remains so unthinkable that we’re forced to continue to assume that a deal will be worked out. Which means the real news from Manchin this morning may be that he’s still stuck on his $1.5 trillion number for the reconciliation infrastructure bill. By whipping against the bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s already passed the Senate, House Republicans are gambling that negotiations between House progressives on the one hand and Manchin and Sinema on the other will break down completely and nothing will pass. The stakes of that wager are huge: The House GOP has strengthened progressives’ hand by not joining with centrists to pass the bipartisan bill, in which case if Manchin surrenders we may end up with an even more exorbitant reconciliation package than we feared. But if he holds firm and progressives walk away in disgust, the whole package could go down. Exit quotation from one optimistic centrist House Republican: “I can honestly see them getting nothing.”