Um … be careful what you wish for, Democrats. According to Politico, Chuck Schumer’s progressives have lost patience with negotiations and want to force Joe Manchin to fish or cut bait on the Build Back Better bill.
Maybe they can call this the John McCain strategy:
After following the West Virginia Democrat’s every utterance on President Joe Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending plan, some Senate Democrats say their party should put the bill on the floor as soon as possible, regardless of whether Manchin gives a public commitment to support it beforehand. That could risk sinking the bill on the floor.
Already some Democrats are worried they will blow another deadline and kick their haggling into January. Many in the party argue they won’t gain anything by waiting any longer, especially after so much internal debate and Biden’s erosion in the polls during the legislative bargaining.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said she’d like to “put it to a vote and let people know where people stand.” And Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) also said it’s time to move forward, noting that all along Manchin’s “been negotiating.” Several Democrats noted that Manchin has already had substantial influence over the social spending bill’s total cost, as well as its policies.
“My experience in this business is you have to bring it to a vote to finally see where you are. All this speculation notwithstanding, people have to face the reality of yes or no,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Manchin’s had “more than enough time … there comes a point where the American people expect a result.”
Sure, but what if the result is abject failure? That’s the bet this strategy places, and that wager has a recent history that highlights its risks. In 2017, Republicans used the reconciliation process in an attempt to repeal ObamaCare, or at least its major budgetary supports. Just as with this BBB bill, the development of the repeal got snagged in internecine fighting over whether to pass a replacement in the same bill rather than just a simple repeal, as well as the form of whatever replacement might be. These were questions that the GOP had seven years to settle, but instead waited until the moment to start spitballing options.
In the end, they pulled together an ill-advised compromise and dared frequent critic John McCain to vote on it. His dramatic thumbs-down on the Senate floor humiliated Republican leadership and may have contributed to the losses in the next midterms.
If Democrats want to get humiliated in a similar fashion, they’re choosing the correct strategy. McCain took a real risk in bucking the GOP on ObamaCare repeal in a conservo-libertarian state like Arizona. Joe Manchin doesn’t have any political risk in shooting down Joe Biden’s progressive hobby-horse bill in deep red West Virginia, especially as inflation continues to escalate. Manchin issued a warning on that point last week, in fact:
Speaking to reporters Monday on Capitol Hill, the West Virginia Democrat said there is still much that is unknown about the Omicron variant. Scientists fear the strain is potentially more transmissible than other variants, but it’s unclear if it causes more severe illness and whether vaccines are effective in combating it. No cases have been reported yet in the United States, but the variant has prompted a new wave of global travel restrictions.
“No one knows what effect it’s going to have, and you have inflation on top,” Manchin said. “So all these things give you cause to pause.”
Manchin, a critical vote for Democrats as they seek to pass the sweeping social safety net and climate change package via the Senate’s reconciliation process, has previously called for a strategic pause on additional spending.
And again today, and this time telling CNN’s Manu Raju that he’s not buying the White House spin that massive spending will somehow control inflation:
Manchin on WH saying Build Back Better will control inflation. "I haven't seen that. I've heard that. I don't know how you control inflation when there's the first year of spending that will be quite large. It's an awful lot more federal dollars going at a time of uncertainty" pic.twitter.com/mBBWCusWAL
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 7, 2021
One has to wonder, in fact, whether Senate Democrats are really targeting Manchin with this threat. Hirono’s comment about finding out where people stand might refer to some quieter members of their caucus. Kyrsten Sinema has made her opposition to BBB components known well enough, but not whether she’d vote it down. Her Arizona colleague Mark Kelly has been an even bigger cypher on BBB. Will he cross Sinema and vote for it, risking the ire of his purple-state voters while approaching a tough midterm effort? What about Jon Tester in Montana, who has a few more years until his next election? Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto might not be a solid vote in favor of this progressive bonanza either, as she also has to face voters in eleven months.
With the clock running out on 2021 and another about to start on the midterms, Senate Democrats might figure it’s time to fish or cut bait themselves. Take the vote, earn the L now, and then reset in the new year by moving on to more modest wins as the election cycle heats up. It’ll be a humiliation for Joe Biden, but Democrats on Capitol Hill might be feeling a need to cut bait on Biden, too.