I don't think we'll have a infrastructure reconciliation deal by Pelosi's October 31 deadline, says Manchin

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

There is no “Pelosi deadline,” really. She said a few weeks ago that she wanted infrastructure done by the end of the month but she has no leverage here. Besides, she already set a deadline of late September to vote on the bipartisan bill and then gave up on it when she couldn’t get the Senate to play ball on reconciliation. She’s at the mercy of Manchin and Sinema and everyone in Congress understands that.

So there’s no Pelosi deadline. There is a “Terry McAuliffe deadline.” Virginia votes on November 2. Democrats will be desperate to pass something before then, to give their demoralized base a reason to turn out on Election Day. If McAuliffe goes down, centrist Democrats may decide that they’re done with the reconciliation process and mega-bucks spending and walk away. Lefties have to pass something before November 2.

I’m … not really feeling it, said Joe Manchin to reporters today.

Serious question: Is he just messing with progressives now?

Let me refine that. Is it possible that he’s trying to run out the clock on them by making demands which, at a minimum, will push negotiations past the McAuliffe deadline and ultimately lead reconciliation to tank?

Over the weekend news broke that Manchin had driven a stake through the heart of the climate change provisions in the reconciliation bill, informing Biden that his plan to replace fossil fuel power plants with clean energy was a nonstarter. The left erupted, as that was one of their key objectives in the infrastructure process. They’re now scrambling for a Plan B and may try to pull a carbon tax off the shelf, assuming Manchin’s willing to agree to that.

He wasn’t done, though. Another gut punch came yesterday afternoon:

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has told the White House the child tax credit must include a firm work requirement and family income cap in the $60,000 range, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: While Manchin’s demands would dramatically weaken one of President Biden’s signature programs to help working families, they also would reduce the package’s overall costs…

Biden expanded the CTC for 2021, giving most families with young children up to $3,600 a year, up from the previous $2,000, with monthly deposits going straight into bank accounts.

He also extended it to households that didn’t have any taxable income, providing a direct subsidy to poor families that are out of the workforce.

Manchin’s insistence on means-testing the child tax credit puts him to the right of some Republicans. Remember that earlier this year Mitt Romney shocked both parties by floating a new credit that would pay couples earning less than $400K per year up to $4,200 per young child, even if mom and dad were unemployed. Most American families would get a monthly check under his plan, no strings attached. The catch was that Romney would have eliminated certain other existing welfare programs to make his program deficit-neutral. Number-crunchers calculated that his plan would have reduced child poverty in the U.S. by fully a third. It was a welfare scheme whose pro-family ethos and deficit consciousness could conceivably attract conservative (well, nationalist) support.

Manchin could have gone that route, endorsing Biden’s similarly robust child tax credit plan in return for cuts to other welfare programs. Instead he’s gutting the program. The work requirement means that parents who are laid off will lose the monthly kiddie check when they need it most. And the lowish income cap means that parents who live in places where the cost of living is high, like cities, may be phased out despite badly needing the help.

He’s knifing progressives repeatedly, from the climate-change thumbs down to the tax credit to today’s “hold your horses” reaction to the October 31 deadline. What’s he up to?

Is it possible that he … wants McAuliffe to lose?

“Wants” is a strong word. Is it possible that he’s indifferent to McAuliffe losing? Manchin is leery of blowing $1.5 trillion+ more on another mega-bill when the country is suffering from inflation due to much money chasing too few goods. Maybe he privately wants to give up reconciliation but is reluctant to tell progressives that after stringing them along for so many months with promises of a deal. Solution: Slow things down. If reconciliation doesn’t pass in the next 10 days, Pelosi and House progressives will face an agonizing choice. With McAuliffe begging them to pass something, they might cave to Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema by passing the bipartisan roads-and-bridges bill that’s simmering in the House without any further action on reconciliation. Or they might stick to their guns and pass nothing, potentially dooming McAuliffe.

Whatever happens, Manchin remains in the driver’s seat. If House Dems cave and pass the bipartisan bill, great. He got what he wanted. Now he can take his time with reconciliation and maybe even see the left walk away from the table in disgust at his demands. If House Dems don’t cave and end up passing nothing, and then McAuliffe loses, that’s fine too. Centrist House Dems will be spooked by the result, fearing that it portends a conservative resurgence in 2022, and won’t want to move forward with reconciliation. (Maybe.) That will leave the bipartisan bill as the only game in town. And Pelosi will pass that bill eventually. There’s no way she and Biden will leave his entire agenda on the cutting-room floor. If all Manchin will give them is the bipartisan bill, they’ll figure out a way to get that through before November 2022 no matter how unhappy progressives are.

He has nothing to lose by slow-walking the process. Democrats may hate him, they may blame him for a McAuliffe defeat, but they won’t dare primary him lest they hand the GOP a safe seat in 2024. It’s his world.