Dems' dawning realization: Manchin's serious

Dems' dawning realization: Manchin's serious
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Salena Zito warned everyone first, and Punchbowl follows up today with the same message: Joe Manchin means what he says. Democrats and the media may not grasp this as it happens so rarely in Washington, and neither group has included that in its calculations. However, that reality keeps getting clearer and clearer, and the Punchbowl crew warn Democrats to figure it out — fast:

Manchin has been remarkably consistent, and all the major media outlets have reported it time and time again. If you’re surprised by what Manchin is saying now, maybe you’ve been really busy, tied up on other endeavors and haven’t listened to or read what he’s said. That’s understandable. Life moves pretty fast.

But if you have listened to Manchin and you’re still surprised by or enraged at his positions, that may be because you’re irrationally hopeful he will change his beliefs, or you’re engaging in wishful and likely unrealistic thinking. Maybe you’re just listening to what you want to hear. But don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Half of official Washington has decided that they’re going to ignore what Manchin says and believe he has a secret set of beliefs he’s waiting to unveil.

Here’s what you have to understand about Manchin: He says what he means. When he gets heavy pressure from the left, it helps him back home.

Here’s the reality: Joe Manchin is a filibuster-supporting conservative Democrat who is also an ardent supporter of coal, skeptical of big government and massive spending packages. He never pretends otherwise. Let’s all stop acting surprised when he says the same thing for the umpteenth time.

No kidding. That’s always been the reality, right along with the reality of an evenly split Senate. One would think that Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer would have put those two realities together and realize that launching a massive progressive-agenda reconciliation bill would have been a no-sale from the very beginning. Up to now, Democrats seem to have talked themselves into a fantasy that Manchin was just looking for a deal, or that they could pressure him into folding.

Now that neither approach has worked — so far, anyway — The Hill reports that Democrats have begun to panic:

Democrats are facing growing headaches over their sweeping social spending bill as they struggle to show momentum ahead of an end-of-the-month deadline.

President Biden will meet with groups of moderates and progressives on Tuesday, and he’s facing pressure from some in his party to take a tighter rein on the talks.

Instead of narrowing their differences, Democrats are dealing with a near constant whack-a-mole of new problems in recent days ranging from climate provisions and child care to increasingly intense infighting between moderates and progressives.

The “whack-a-mole” is also a product of Democratic fantasy. They larded up the reconciliation bill with the entire progressive wish-list agenda, and as those items get attention, they also draw opposition. This omnibus approach to the hobby-horse list from the Bernie Sanders wing might have worked if Democrats had a clear and significant majority in each chamber of Congress, or if they had worked out the details with Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema beforehand. Biden doesn’t have the former and didn’t do any work on the latter, which is why Democrats are playing “whack-a-mole” now.

Now, as The Hill reports separately, Manchin’s entirely predictable opposition to Green New Deal-esque legislation threatens to torpedo Biden’s entire agenda:

Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) refusal to support the centerpiece of President Biden’s climate agenda puts the Democrats’ entire infrastructure and social spending agenda at risk.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) two-track strategy for passing Biden’s agenda was based on the expectation that Manchin would give ground to progressives in exchange for their support of the hard infrastructure bill that he and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) negotiated with Republicans.

But Manchin’s infrastructure bill, including billions of dollars in new money for West Virginia’s needs — such as the Appalachian Development Highway System — has passed the Senate and he’s still not signing on to the climate investments that are a key demand of progressive Democrats.

His staunch opposition to a $150 billion clean electricity plan that was supposed to be the backbone of Biden’s transition to clean energy puts what was supposed to be a grand bargain between moderate and progressive Democrats in danger.

If that surprises Schumer, then he’s more clueless than previously thought. Again, as Punchbowl points out, getting attacked by progressives is likely what will keep Manchin in office. Everyone else has figured that out — why haven’t Schumer and Biden? The failure to account for Manchin and Sinema before floating this massive boondoggle is outright political malpractice.

They’re not alone either, as Chris Stirewalt argues (and I have argued before).  There are almost certainly more than two votes opposed to the reconciliation bill, even if other dissenters are opting for strategic silence:

While the engorged progressive base is thinking about defenestrating Sinema for fun and profit, there is an actual Senate race taking place in Arizona this year. Sen. Mark Kelly is up for reelection in 2022. He and Sinema are united by the fact that they both got to the Senate by beating Martha McSally. But one suspects the unity probably runs deeper than that, even if he is quieter than his colleague.

So far, progressive activists seem content to leave the obstinately opaque Kelly alone. … But Sinema is part of Kelly’s strategy, too. And he’s not the only one. Kelly is just one of many Democratic senators who are happy to stand silent while Sinema and Manchin take the heat for opposing what will be a massively unpopular spending measure. The refusal of his home-state colleague and Manchin obviates any further discussion on the subject. Without all 50 Senate Democrats, there’s no need for Kelly to even take a vote on the $3.5 trillion package. There’s no question that Kelly would be better off not having to vote on the Sanders-backed bill. Sinema may make that possible.

Right now, Biden has managed to get his party into a game of chicken with itself. And as usual in such cases, both sides are going to end up in flames. It’s gone long enough and public enough that any compromise will look like defeat for at least one side, and likely won’t work anyway.

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