Senate Dems: Say, maybe Biden should give that Manchin fella another call

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Why? Isn’t Chuck Schumer deep in talks with Joe Manchin already? That’s what Punchbowl had heard, right up until Manchin blew up Schumer’s narrative yesterday:

Manchin said he’s involved in no discussions about a potential deal and remains in the same place he was Dec. 19. That’s when the West Virginia Democrat told Bret Baier on Fox News that he was against the legislation. In fact, Manchin said, he’s having no conversations about resuscitating it and added that he would not be working on legislation that divides the American people.

But get this: Schumer said Tuesday he had spoken to Manchin about the BBB and work was underway.

In other words, Manchin and Schumer can’t even decide whether they’re holding talks about the BBB or not. You can pretty much take it to the bank that nothing will pass anytime soon on Biden’s top legislative priority.

So, no BBB for the time being. At absolute best, a small tweak of the Senate rules on the filibuster. No voting rights legislation. Where are Senate Democrats going to find a win this month? What do they have to look forward to?

That sequence of event may have prompted Schumer’s colleagues to push Joe Biden back into action. At the very least, Biden appears to be dealing with them more honestly for Schumer, and given Biden’s propensity for lying his rear end off, that’s really saying something:

Senate Democrats on Tuesday say they expect President Biden to restart talks with holdout Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) after a “cooling off” period that will extend until the Senate finishes debate on voting rights legislation and rules reform.

Senate Democrats agreed at a virtual lunchtime meeting Tuesday that everyone in their caucus would take a deep breath and step back from the heated debate over Biden’s sweeping climate and social spending plan to give Manchin some space.

In other words, Senate Dems have come to the belated conclusion that 49 does not equal 50. In fact, they may not even have 49, a point that keeps getting overlooked in large part because media outlets aren’t asking Mark Kelly, Catherine Cortez Masto, Jon Tester, or Maggie Hassan about their positions on Biden’s spend-o-rama Build Back Better plan. They’ve largely stopped asking Kyrsten Sinema about it even though she has openly opposed it in the past. Senate Democrats know better, or at least they should, and they should have worked with Manchin from the beginning to craft what was possible rather than fantasy-league legislation.

The Hill suggests that this might finally be a surrender on the part of Senate Democrats, who understand that Manchin will drive the negotiations in any talks with Biden:

Democratic senators say they have agreed to a cooling off period to give Biden and Manchin time to restart the talks that collapsed after Manchin told “Fox News Sunday” on Dec. 19 that he could not support the $1.75 trillion framework unveiled by the White House in October.

“We all acknowledge, understand there’s a cooling off period and we need to give a little distance to Manchin and Biden on this so they can come back together and try again,” said a Democratic senator who participated in Tuesday’s caucus discussion.

“My guess is there will be a very significant reworking of the bill,” the lawmaker added.

“Significant reworking” in this case means “gut the BBB.” Manchin has made it clear that he wants a reconciliation package that marries full ten-year costs to ten-year revenue projections. To get that under Manchin’s $1.8 trillion cap, lots of programs will have to come out entirely, including most if not all of the progressive hobby-horse programs that House Democrats stuffed into their version of BBB. Those would cost nearly $5 trillion in full ten-year accounting, the CBO reported a month ago, while the bill raised less than $2 trillion in the same period.

It’s certainly possible to craft a new BBB with a cost under $1.8 trillion based on honest ten-year accounting. Manchin even suggested this week that the bill could focus on climate-change issues, minus any penalties that hurt energy production in his state. But without the panoply of other programs on the progressives’ wish list, would that version of the BBB pass in either the House or the Senate? It would at least be a win for Joe Biden at this point to get anything across the reconciliation finish line, but progressives in both chambers will fight against it tooth and nail and turn it into either a defeat against expectations or a defeat entirely by blocking its passage and demanding more from Biden and Manchin.

Given Schumer’s propensity for bulls******g his colleagues and raising expectations to impossible levels, bet on the latter.