It's been years since I spoke with Robert, one of my oldest friends from college, someone who was an upperclassman-- and a legend-- when I was a freshman, and, as we became close friends, taught me a great deal more than most of my professors-- maybe any of them. The other day he e-mailed me and told me that one of his sons did his doctoral dissertation on political ideology and is in the field of political psychology. I didn't know there was such a field. I mean, if you've been reading DWT over the last decade, you've heard me describe Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema-- not to mention Señor Trumpanzee-- in psychological terms. But what do I know? I don't think I even took Psych 101. Soon I hope I can get Robert's son to analyze Sinema for us. But for the sake of this post... let's just stick to Manchin and leave whacked-out Kyrsten without the attention she so craves.
One more thing about Sinema though, before we turn her over to Robert's son: I've known her before she was a senator and before she had even run for Congress. A headline like this drives her up the wall: Power of one: Manchin is singularly halting Biden's agenda. She would rather be a comic book villain than see the Associated Press give Manchin all the credit for tanking Biden's agenda. We'll leave the workings of her sick, dysfunctional mind there for now.
"[D]espite Democrats slashing Biden's big bill in half and meeting the senator's other demands," wrote Lisa Mascaro and Farnoush Amiri last night, "Manchin is no closer to voting yes. In an extraordinary display of political power in the evenly split 50-50 Senate, a single senator is about to seriously set back an entire presidential agenda... [W]ith his domestic agenda stalled out in Congress, senators are coming to terms with the reality that passage of the president's plan, as well as Democrats' high-priority voting rights package, would most likely have to be delayed to next year. Failing to deliver on Biden's roughly $2 trillion social and environmental bill would be a stunning end to the president’s first year in office."
Manchin's actions throw Democrats into turmoil at time when families are struggling against the prolonged COVID-19 crisis and Biden’s party needs to convince voters heading toward the 2022 election that their unified party control of Washington can keep its campaign promises.
The White House has insisted Manchin is dealing with the administration in “good faith,” according to deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates.
Manchin, though, has emerged as an uneven negotiator-- bending norms and straining relationships because he says one thing one day and another the next, adjusting his positions, demands and rationale along the way.
Democratic senators have grown weary of their colleague, whose vote they cannot live without-- but whose regular chats with Republican leader Mitch McConnell leave them concerned he could switch parties and take away their slim hold on power.
“Mr. Manchin and the Republicans and anybody else who thinks that struggling working families who are having a hard time raising their kids today should not be able to continue to get the help that they have, then that’s their view and they’ve got to come forward to the American people and say, ‘Hey, we don’t think you need help,'” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont. “Let them tell the American people that.”
...So far, Manchin has gotten much of what he wanted: Biden halved what had been a $3.5 trillion proposal to $1.75 trillion, once Manchin gave his nod to that figure.
Manchin insisted the corporate tax rate Biden proposed raising to 28% would not inch past 25% — in fact, it ended up not being raised at all, thanks to opposition from another hold-out Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The coal-state senator insisted the new renewable energy incentives to fight climate change would not come at the expense of fossil fuels. The White House scrapped plans for a nationwide renewable energy standard that environmental advocates viewed as the most significant tool for curbing climate change.
And Manchin's demands for “no additional handouts” have limited some of the proposed social programs, and appear destined to tank plans to launch the nation’s first-ever paid family and medical leave program for workers whose employers don’t provide the paid time off to temporarily care for loved ones.
But what Manchin actually does want is much more unclear. [No, it isn't-- he wants to make sure the wealthy pay not significant new taxes, easy as that.] And it all raises the question of whether Manchin even wants Congress to pass any “Build Back Better Act” at all.
For progressives, the stalemate Manchin engineered was exactly what lawmakers have feared after Congress signed off on a companion $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill rather than force the two bills to move together to Biden's desk.
...[T]his week, Manchin introduced a new demand, suggesting the enhanced child tax cut, which has been one of the most significant federal policies Democrats enacted this year-- lifting some 40% of the nation's children from poverty-- must run for the full 10 years of a traditional federal budget window rather than just one, as the House approved in a cost-cutting compromise.
It's a non-starter-- the price of a decade-long child tax cut would consume the bulk of Biden's bill.
All this while Democrats also need support from Manchin, and Sinema, for Senate rules changes so they can overcome the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a Republican filibuster to pass voting rights.
Manchin met with McConnell on Thursday, as they often do.
“As you know, he likes to talk,” the Republican leader told reporters. “It would not surprise you to know that I’ve suggested for years it would be a great idea, representing a deep red state like West Virginia, for him to come over to our side.”
Bernie: "People are giving up on a government that they see doesn’t respond to their needs. You have a Capitol Hill that is dominated by very powerful lobbyists... That’s not democracy. That is a corrupt political system, and we’re moving not only to an authoritarian type of society system, in a parallel to that, you’re moving toward an oligarchy."
This morning the PunchBowl News crew summed up the bitter end of the Democrats' annus horribilis like this: "It's difficult too imagine an uglier end to 2021 for Democrats on their top legislative priority. The Build Back Better Act is stalled, with no new deadline for the Senate to finish work on the massive $1.7 trillion package. Biden made it official Thursday night when he said he was unable to come to an agreement with Manchin, who is opposed to critical elements of BBB. Biden: 'My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week. It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote. We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead; Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible.' You'll notice Biden's statement doesn't say anything about bringing BBB to the floor in January. Just 'as early as possible.' This is a recognition that legislating is hard and unpredictable. And a bill of this magnitude is especially difficult to get across the finish line."
Meanwhile, the Democrats are allowing an unelected Republican bureaucrat, a Senate employee who's supposed to advise them, Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, walk all over them. She should be looking for a new job at the RNC today. Instead, Schumer and the other spineless, gutless Democrats are allowing her to dictate immigration policy. It gets worse:
Voting rights legislation is absolutely nowhere in the Senate. Manchin has said for months he won’t change the filibuster rule without GOP buy-in. Sinema also isn’t going to get rid of the 60-vote threshold. And McConnell said Republicans are adamantly opposed to any Democratic initiatives on voting rights and definitively will not join in talks to change the chamber’s rules.
Progressives around the country are furious that the Hold the Line strategy that was working so well for the progressive caucus was ditched in return for hollow promises from Pelosi and Biden that if progressives gave up their rational demand that Manchin's and Sinema's Infrastructure bill would be allowed to pass in the House on the same day that the Build Back Better bill was allowed to pass in the Senate. Only 6 House Democrats held firm. The rest... were a party to the Annus Horribilis.
Mike Ortega is running for the safe blue Orange County congressional seat held by reactionary Blue Dog Lou Correa. This morning I asked him and other Blue America-endorsed candidates how things might have worked out better if they had been in Congress this year instead of schmucks like Correa, who, obviously not only voted against the hold line strategy, but were against it from the beginning. Ortega told me this morning that he "would have held the line with the other brave representatives that did so. I would have whipped votes to follow suit, as well. What’s bigger to me, though, is what is currently in the BBB bill today. Lou Correa sold us out for Big Pharma donations and now we have prescription drug costs lowered for a fraction of people instead of all people. He’s not the only one-- a lot of other Democrats sitting in Congress helped tear up and means-test the child care, elderly care, and paid family/medical leave provisions. Our campaign is bringing common sense to D.C.-- we know that means testing is morally objectionable but also costs more to implement than if you made programs universal. American families wouldn’t pay more for a worse result, so why should our elected leaders? It’s time to kick people like Lou out of Congress."
Taking on another reactionary Blue Dog, Ed Case in Honolulu, Sergio Alcubilla told me that he would also have held the line "with the other brave progressives in Congress who are tired of seeing the American people being conned and hustled by slick politicians. Rep. Case weakened our bargaining position on the Build Back Better Act by taking away the only significant leverage Democrats had. If not for his actions and the rest of the Blue Dog Caucus, we would be talking about how Democrats delivered just in time for the holidays in providing much needed help to our working families, our seniors, and having the resources to finally combat climate change. Instead, we're back where we started with Senators Manchin and Sinema threatening to derail the whole thing. Rep. Case failed the people of Hawai‘i when he not only failed to hold the line but when he failed to stand up for us in the first place. If you can't stand up from your seat and fight for the people of this country and your state, it's time for you to go."
Rick Larsen is a conservative corporate shill, the worst of what the Democratic Party has to offer. Needless to say, he voted against the hold the line strategy. Jason Call is challenging him this cycle. "Sometimes," Jason told me this morning, "there is no political ideology behind the actions of an elected official like Joe Manchin. Sometimes it’s just exercising power for the sake of power. Consider an abusive relationship where one individual holds a decisive power advantage and knows there’s no accountability-- you can envision that going from bad to worse very quickly. What is Joe Manchin’s ideology? What does it mean for him to be a member of the Democratic Party? I think that naked power is the only thing that motivates him at this point. He’s the guy who is for all intents and purposes, more powerful than the president. All of the media attention is on him, but none of it is really negative, it’s Biden’s 'failure' that is highlighted. So everything about this is win-win for WV Joe and he’s just rolling with the glory of being top dog. There’s an inherent psychopathy in this, and unfortunately there’s no federal recall process or I imagine you’d see those petitions right now. And of course, much the same can be said of Sinema, with the added goofy antics that are her way of letting the public know she really doesn’t care what they think of her. The real story will be, when election time rolls around, where will the Democratic establishment be on unseating these two clowns?"
Progressive Oregonian, Jamie McLeod-Skinner is taking none of Congress' most conservative, most corrupt and most venal Blue Dogs, Kurt Schrader. She told me that "We’re in a time crisis-- our environment, our working families, and our democracy. Schrader doesn’t understand the urgency-- and the opportunity-- of these times. Instead, he shows how out-of-touch he is with everyday Americans by playing politics with our health and our ability to rebound from the COVID economy. That’s why Schrader underperforms in elections and why voters in the newly drawn CD-5 won’t elect him. Had I been in Congress this year, I would have worked hard to expedite the recovery and rebuilding legislation. And I would have helped Democrats message the value of these programs to rural voters."
Lourin Hubbard, the progressive Democrat who wants to replace Devin Nunes in Congress-- and will face both a Republican and a Democratic Party conservative in an open jungle primary, said he thinks what we're seeing is "the opposite of what has been presented in the mainstream press. It is often progressives who are made to look uncompromising while 'centrist' Democrats look pragmatic when the truth is the people who are willing to compromise and accept half a loaf are the progressives. The ones who refuse to negotiate are the 'centrists.' If I was in Congress this year I would be making that case clear on every news camera, or microphone put in my face. Politics is theater and optics are important. Joe Manchin telling his own constituents that he doesn’t believe that they, the people of West Virginia, deserve paid family leave or extension of the advanced child tax credit from his million dollar yacht isn’t great optics. Especially when West Virginia ranks 47th in healthcare, 45th in education, and 50th in infrastructure and had the 6th highest poverty rate in the US. I’d definitely say the people of West Virginia both need and deserve what is in the Build Back Better Act. Sinema isn’t that much better, in fact she may be worse. She has reportedly said she will not accept any corporate or income tax rate increases, and is opposed to Biden’s plan to allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies. The 'centrists' really, just two people, are the ones refusing to negotiate, threatening to torpedo the entire Biden presidency if they don’t get exactly what they want. People defend Joe Manchin just because he’s a Democrat; well it’s very apparent not all Democrats value the same things. What good is a Democrat who votes with the GOP more than with their own party? I am running for Congress to get things done and deliver the real change that so many in our country are yearning for. We need to ensure that everyone plays by the same fair set of rules. Meanwhile Manchin and Sinema, with their refusal to protect voting rights or modify filibuster rules to pass legislation that the majority of Americans want, are actively working to maintain a system that is often rigged to favor the wealthy and powerful over ordinary Americans."
Shahid Buttar is the progressive candidate running to replace Pelosi, who lead the wrong-headed jihad against the hold the line strategy that might had forced Manchin and Sinema to budge off their reactionary positions. "Throughout the legislative history of the Build Back Better bill," he told me today, "Nancy Pelosi mouthed support for Biden‘s agenda while undermining it in practice by repeatedly setting deadlines as concessions to moderates who wanted the infrastructure deal to pass first. They ultimately got what they want, which was for Congress to prioritize the privatization of public infrastructure over the need to establish support for working families, universal childcare, or climate resiliency. Adding insult to injury is the inclusion of the SALT cap repeal in the House Build Back Better bill. The second largest line item in the policy, it would personally benefit only 13% of tax filers, all of them from high tax states. In other words, its targeted beneficiaries include Nancy Pelosi herself, and her wealthy friends and donors. If I have the opportunity to represent San Francisco in Congress, our city’s voice would no longer be supporting the upward redistribution of wealth, or working against fiscal stimulus and social needs. I would particularly have done everything possible to block the expansion of military spending. It’s swift bipartisan passage reveals the hypocrisy of continuing legislative impediments to the (much smaller) Build Back Better bill. Under its current leadership, Congress is placing priorities in all the wrong places."