Whoa: Manchin slams the brakes on reconciliation, tells House to stop holding the bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage

Whoa: Manchin slams the brakes on reconciliation, tells House to stop holding the bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage

When I heard he was having a press conference this afternoon I was sure he was about to announce a deal with House lefties on the reconciliation bill. The timing would have made sense: What a gift to Terry McAuliffe it would be for Dems to finally resolve their standoff over Build Back Better on the eve of Virginia’s election. Maybe the House would pass both bills as soon as tonight. Even if they didn’t, just knowing that a deal had finally been reached might be enough to get Virginia Democrats motivated to vote at the last second.

The timing also would have made sense given that reconciliation may be much harder to pass in 48 hours if McAuliffe goes belly up in Virginia. If you assume that Manchin really does want to get some sort of deal through, it makes sense for him to lock himself in today, before Virginia turns red and centrist Dems face heavy pressure to quit the Build Back Better negotiations.

I saw this a few hours ago and took it as another sign that, yep, a compromise was imminent. House progressives reiterated that they were dropping their demand that the Senate pass the reconciliation bill before the House acts. Our chamber will go first, Pramila Jayapal said. We’ll trust that the president will convince our friends in the Senate to take up our reconciliation bill after the House passes it.

That was Joe Manchin’s cue to declare peace in our time and announce that he’s come to terms with lefties on the outstanding issues between them. McAuliffe’s party was about to deliver for him after all.

What Manchin actually delivered at his presser was the political equivalent of not one but two middle fingers. I’m shocked:

There’s not going to be a reconciliation deal today. There’s not going to be a reconciliation deal this week. In fact, the way he sounds here, there may not be a reconciliation deal this month:

Not only is the bill not happening soon, it may yet need to get a lot smaller than Biden’s $1.75 trillion framework:

Reporter Garrett Haake makes a good point: Manchin didn’t need to say anything today. Per Jayapal, if he had just kept quiet it’s conceivable that the House would have passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill and some progressive-friendly version of Biden’s reconciliation framework. Manchin and Sinema then could have quietly mulled which changes to demand in the progressive bill and meanwhile the bipartisan bill would be on Biden’s desk, just in time to give McAuliffe a boost.

Instead Manchin walked out in front of the cameras and warned progressives essentially that Build Back Better is DOA in the Senate unless significant changes to it are made. He’s now daring them to cave and pass the bipartisan bill *knowing* that he’ll tank their version of the reconciliation bill if they dare to pass that too. I think he fears a McAuliffe loss tomorrow and is pre-spinning whom should be blamed if and when it happens. Lefties will want to blame him and Sinema: “We would have passed the bipartisan bill ages ago if those two had been more reasonable in compromising with us on reconciliation!”

Manchin’s counter: “I warned them on Monday that holding the bipartisan bill hostage wasn’t going to make me cave on reconciliation. They could have passed it. They refused.”

He’s right, too. If the past month showed us anything, notes Bill Scher, it’s that the progressive attempts to pressure Manchin and Sinema aren’t working. Insofar as House lefties are still refusing to pass the bipartisan bill at this point, it can’t be that they think doing so will force Manchin to bend to their demands. It’s purely a matter of saving face, to McAuliffe’s and the party’s detriment:

Delaying its passage did not make moderates more willing to accept progressive demands. The adversarial dynamic has only prompted moderates to dig in their heels deeper and wield their leverage more aggressively.

Progressives have unwittingly weakened their own negotiating position because of their mistrust. The fact that progressives believe Manchin wants to kill the bill makes his “I’m comfortable with zero” threat far more credible. Progressives are now primed to accept a halving of the initial proposal, even though they have long insisted that the $3.5 trillion figure in the budget resolution was already a compromise from Sanders’ first proposal of $6 trillion. Compare that huge climb-down to how far Manchin has moved. In July he told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he would not “guarantee” support for a Build Back Better bill that went above $1.5 trillion, and he appears to be accepting a final amount very close to his initial demand.

Mistrust of the moderates was supposed to be clear-eyed realism that would strengthen progressive leverage. But the inverse has proven true; mistrust of the moderates lent additional credibility to any moderate threat to walk way, weakening progressive leverage.

Scher published that this morning, presciently, just a few hours before Manchin made essentially the same point. Progressives continue to operate under the delusion that they have meaningful leverage over this process when the Senate is 50/50 and Manchin palpably doesn’t care if they end up passing nothing on reconciliation. He’s willing to see the bill tank and they can’t move forward without him; in a situation like that, they’re stuck with doing whatever he wants. They need to decide if they want to kill the bill themselves out of spite now, to avoid having to capitulate to him and Sinema in this staring contest, or if they accept that those two can dictate their terms. Manchin never quite said in his presser today that he’s done with reconciliation if the House doesn’t pass the bipartisan bill immediately but he’s perilously close. Your move, Jayapal.

He’s right about something else too. Democrats don’t know what effect the Build Back Better bill will have on the national debt because it hasn’t been scored yet:

Bills that pass via reconciliation are supposed to be deficit-neutral. How the hell can they use reconciliation to pass Build Back Better if they don’t know that it’s deficit-neutral yet?

Bear in mind that none of what Manchin said today is new. The famous op-ed in which he announced his misgivings about the reconciliation package due to its impact on inflation and the national debt will be two months old tomorrow. Lefties will be furious that they spent two months negotiating with him, believing he was moving towards the finish line, only to have him pull back now for reasons he articulated in early September. But again, that’s a product of their mistaken belief that they have a meaningful say in what ends up passing here. They don’t. The sooner they come to grips with that, the better off the party will be.

I’ll leave you with two tweets from Saturday pre-gaming what this process might mean for the results in Virginia and what the results in Virginia might mean for this process. Hint: Nothing good.

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Jazz Shaw 1:01 PM on May 27, 2023