Schumer's not really going to make Manchin vote on Build Back Better, is he?

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Yeah, I know what he said. But c’mon. It’d be political malpractice. Manchin will happily vote no to tank the bill, and meanwhile Senate Dems from purple states who are leery of BBB will be forced to go on the record. If they vote no, Democratic voters back home will be irate. If they vote yes, Republicans will bludgeon them with it.

You can imagine the Republican attack ads. “Listen to what fellow Democrat Joe Manchin had to say about the terrible Build Back Better legislation Maggie Hassan voted for…”

Schumer would be nuts to put a bill on the floor which he has reason to believe won’t pass it. But he may feel that he has no choice. Remember that he’s on the ballot next fall too and he’s keen to avoid a primary challenge from the left. Progressives want to punish Manchin for tanking their BBB dreams and forcing him to vote no is the closest thing they have to a penalty — even though, as I say, only swing-state Dems will actually suffer from it. (If anything, getting to vote no will help Manchin in West Virginia.) Schumer has to slake their thirst for blood lest they accuse him of being a DINO and force him to face some AOC type in his next election.

What he’s hoping for, I suspect, is that the White House and Manchin will reach a deal on some new version of BBB before the Senate votes on the current version. And that may not be a pipe dream. Someone — presumably inside Manchin’s office — has been whispering to WaPo that he made a $1.8 trillion counterproposal to Biden just last week.

Sen. Joe Manchin III last week made the White House a concrete counteroffer for its spending bill, saying he would accept a $1.8 trillion package that included universal prekindergarten for 10 years, an expansion of Obamacare and hundreds of billions of dollars to combat climate change, three people familiar with the matter said.

But the West Virginia Democrat’s counteroffer excluded an extension of the expanded child tax credit the administration has seen as a cornerstone of President Biden’s economic legacy, the people said, an omission difficult for the White House to accept in the high-stakes negotiations. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door deliberations…

The White House was weighing how to respond to Manchin’s proposal last week when on Sunday he told Fox News that he would be unable to support the current version of Democrats’ Build Back Better agenda.

If that’s true, it sounds like Manchin dictated his terms, the White House hemmed and hawed in the belief that they could still twist his arm somehow to get him to support the current BBB, and he decided to show them he meant business by nuking that proposal on national television. It was a leverage play, aimed at showing the left that he’s done dicking around and they can either accept his offer or watch Biden’s agenda — including the climate change provisions progressives love so much — collapse before their eyes. He’s trying to scare them into submission.

It might work.

“Manchin’s proposal gives Biden something vastly superior to the failure of Build Back Better,” writes Jonathan Chait. “He would have the largest green-energy investment in history plus the creation of a permanent pre-kindergarten plan plus making health insurance universally available. He should … sign the deal tomorrow.” There’s even a chance Dems could finagle an extension of the child tax credit in a separate bill, Chait notes, if they agreed to the proposal Mitt Romney put forth earlier this year and somehow got Romney to agree to pass the bill via reconciliation. Hmmmmm:

Can Democrats use reconciliation again this year if they use it to pass Manchin’s version of BBB, though?

And do we really think even a Republican as independent as Mitt Romney would be willing to join Democrats as the lone GOP vote for a child tax credit expansion, handing Biden a giant victory that even Joe Manchin’s not willing ti supply?

Either way, the point is that Build Back Better isn’t dead yet. The progressive incarnation of it is but the somewhat less progressive yet still pretty progressive Manchin incarnation isn’t. Even in this morning’s contentious interview with local radio in West Virginia, Manchin hinted that he remains open to passing something. If there’s a revised bill, he said, he wants it to go through committee in the Senate. As much as I share Phil Klein’s optimism that Manchin has thwarted “transformational liberalism” for a decade, he doesn’t sound to me like a guy who’s written off the possibility of supporting a mega-bill eventually.

All of that being so, it’s hard to believe Schumer would risk further antagonizing Manchin by having him vote on the current BBB if there’s a back-up deal still on the table. Remember, Build Back Better isn’t the final item on the Democrats’ policy wishlist: They’re still trying to get Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to yes on some sort of voting rights bill, but to make that happen they’ll need to tweak the rules of the Senate to avoid a filibuster — and of course they need Manchin’s cooperation for that as well. The more Schumer irritates him, the more likely it is that all of the Democrats’ remaining priorities will go down in flames, not just BBB.

I’ll leave you with this guy, who’s several moves ahead of Schumer.