Yikes: Manchin says he and Schumer have reached a deal on Build Back Better -- sort of

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

They’re not calling it “Build Back Better.” That’s the “sort of” part. “Build Back Better is dead,” Manchin declares in his statement on today’s agreement.

But reading over that statement, it looks pretty lively to me.

I’m dismayed, yet at the same time amused imagining how progressives will react when Manchin yanks the football away again just before the midterms and decides he can’t support the bill after all.

Follow the timeline here. On June 30, Mitch McConnell issued this ultimatum:

USICA was the bill Congress was working on to help make American industry more competitive with China. The ultimatum led to USICA being scrapped — but the guts of it, to jumpstart domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, was rolled into a new bill called CHIPS.

Meanwhile, McConnell’s threat seemed to have its desired effect on Manchin. On July 13, he declared the reconciliation bill to be a clear and present threat to the economy due to its inflation risk and walked away from BBB, infuriating liberals. All Manchin would agree to was a narrow deal to reduce prescription drug prices, with none of the climate-change measures that liberals wanted. McConnell had won! That left the Senate GOP free to support the CHIPS Act.

Which 14 of its members did this morning, when the bill finally passed the Senate:

And lo and behold, a scant four hours later, Joe Manchin has suddenly changed his mind and decided that he’s okay with a bigger reconciliation bill after all.

It sure looks like Manchin and Schumer faked out the GOP to get around McConnell’s ultimatum so that they could pass CHIPS with Republican help, overcoming a potential filibuster, and then pass BBB after all. Manchin didn’t care for McConnell’s threat over USICA at the time, calling it “so wrong,” but little did we know how far he may have been willing to go to punish Mitch for it. Did he and his party engage in a weeks-long deception to convince Republicans that BBB was dead until CHIPS was safely through the Senate, only to then bring the corpse back to life?

“It was not clear what had changed his mind about the plan, which only weeks ago he had said he could not back until he saw more economic data next month,” the Times notes this afternoon, drily. Rarely do you see Mitch McConnell get played, but even the best fighters get licked sometimes.

It’s a money-saver, see. Bills that spend nearly half a trillion dollars always are.

If you’re looking for a silver lining here, it lies in Manchin’s claim that he got Biden and Pelosi to expand production of fossil fuels in addition to building out clean energy infrastructure. A guy who represents a state famous for coal-mining was obliged, I suppose. From his statement:

“I support a plan that will advance a realistic energy and climate policy that lowers prices today and strategically invests in the long game. As the super power of the world, it is vital we not undermine our super power status by removing dependable and affordable fossil fuel energy before new technologies are ready to reliably carry the load. This legislation ensures that the market will take the lead, rather than aspirational political agendas or unrealistic goals, in the energy transition that has been ongoing in our country. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 invests in the technologies needed for all fuel types – from hydrogen, nuclear, renewables, fossil fuels and energy storage – to be produced and used in the cleanest way possible. It is truly all of the above, which means this bill does not arbitrarily shut off our abundant fossil fuels. It invests heavily in technologies to help us reduce our domestic methane and carbon emissions and also helps decarbonize around the world as we displace dirtier products…

“Let me make it clear, I will not vote to support policies that make the United States more dependent on foreign energy and supply chains or risk moving the country closer to the unstable and vulnerable European model of energy we are witnessing today. Most importantly, I am heartened by the bipartisan recognition that for America to achieve our energy and climate goals, it is critical we reform the broken permitting process. President Biden, Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi have committed to advancing a suite of commonsense permitting reforms this fall that will ensure all energy infrastructure, from transmission to pipelines and export facilities, can be efficiently and responsibly built to deliver energy safely around the country and to our allies.

Nothing would be funnier than if Kyrsten Sinema read that and said, “No way, I’m out.” It could happen! Per Politico, she only found out about the deal this afternoon and had no immediate comment.

Now it’s crunch time for Pelosi’s caucus. Have they finally, finally accepted that their only options are to pass whatever Joe Manchin wants or settle for nothing? Progressives won’t like the language about fossil fuel production, but oh well. Interestingly, though, it’s not progressives who may be the biggest impediment to passage in the House. A key line from Manchin’s statement reads, “Our tax code should not favor red state or blue state elites with loopholes like SALT and should focus more on closing unfair loopholes like carried interest.” Protecting the SALT deduction is a huge deal for centrist House Dems who represent wealthy coastal blue states like California and New York; their rich donors count on that tax break to save them big bucks. Can Pelosi get to 218 if the moderates walk?

If she can’t, can Schumer and Manchin make the math work by reintroducing a SALT deduction into their plan? Remember, a reconciliation bill has to either reduce the deficit or be deficit-neutral. Choking off a potential revenue stream could spoil the numbers.

Exit question: It sounds from the statement like the permitting reforms Manchin wants will be passed via a separate bill. Uh, can Pelosi get 218 votes for that? She’ll have centrists on board for that one, but what about the Squad? Will McCarthy let House Republicans help her out?

Update: Pelosi presumably doesn’t need Republicans to get CHIPS through, but if she does…