Will the real Joe Manchin please stand up?

Manchin makes a great song and dance out of his desire to impose order, rationality, and bipartisan comity on the lawmaking process, but, for nearly six months now, he has happily indulged precisely the sort of behavior that he claims loudly to disdain. In an admirable Wall Street Journal piece last month, Manchin lamented that “in 2017, my Republican friends used the privileged legislative procedure of budget reconciliation to rush through a partisan tax bill” and implied that no such thing would be allowed to happen on his watch. Then, he wrote, “Democrats rightfully criticized this budgetary tactic. Now, my Democratic friends want to use this same budgetary tactic to push through sweeping legislation to make ‘historic investments.’” “Respectfully,” he concluded, “it was wrong when the Republicans did it, and it is wrong now.”

Which, if true, raises an important question: Namely, what on earth is Manchin doing indulging this process in the first place? Unless I’ve missed something, the Democrats are trying to use exactly the same “budgetary tactic” here — what Manchin calls the “privileged legislative procedure of budget reconciliation” — in order to push through a “partisan” bill that is full of their long-held priorities. If Manchin were out for revenge against the Republicans, this behavior would make sense. Instead, he has insisted that “it was wrong when the Republicans did it, and it is wrong now.” Explaining his vote to proceed with the package in September, Manchin said he did not want to be “the fly in the ointment.” But, if that ointment is “wrong,” as Manchin has said it is, then why not?