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Which Ancient Relic In The Senate Will Die First? Or Will Manchin Switch Parties Even Sooner?



Congress is good at one thing-- kicking the can down the road until the last possible second before the world falls off a cliff. That way everyone has to follow the leaders for the sake of (fill in the blank). Pelosi is trying again to create the momentum to pass the wretched package of shit that was once Build Back Better and is now no longer even Build Back Less Better, but just what it was always destined to be: Build Back Worse. She told Democrats today she hopes to have everything locked down this afternoon-- and that includes nearly intractable problems from drug pricing, the Climate Crisis and immigration (likely to be kicked down the road again).


Meanwhile, if anyone missed him yesterday, Manchin wants to make sure everyone knows that he (and by extension, his donors) are in charge, not Biden and certainly not Schumer or Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie (or Speaker Pelosi). He reiterated he didn't sign off on anything-- not even the shitty reconciliation package he and Sinema virtually gutted and which he single-handedly put a price tag on-- and that he could care less if it gets done or not... as long as he gets his hard transportation bill. So suddenly everyone wants to bow down and blow him and give him-- with no quid pro quo-- the putrid hard infrastructure bill he's demanding. Our leadership is less than unacceptable and deserving of what is coming their way this evening when the votes in Virginia and around the country are counted.


Last week, Walter Shapiro explained that either Manchin or Sinema could do more to fuck up the Democrats than just voting like Republicans; either of both could leave the Democratic Party and put a premature end to the Democratic Majority in the Senate. That would mean no more nominee confirmations, no more committee chairs, no more nuthin'. Let's face it, neither has a future within the party, so it's probably just a matter of time. I suspect that if their friend McConnell were telling them what to do, he'd be telling them to do exactly what they have been doing-- making the Democratic Party look like a mess that can't be trusted to govern America-- nor keep its campaign promises.


Shapiro wrote that "There is no need to consult actuarial tables to understand how fragile a zero-votes-to-spare Senate majority can be in the midst of a pandemic. All that is required is to brush up on the history of the Senate during the first two years of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. The 1952 Eisenhower landslide created a Senate balanced on a knife edge, with the Republicans holding a 48–47 majority aided by an independent (Oregon’s Wayne Morse) who caucused with the GOP. During the next two years, a stunning nine senators died in office, including Majority Leader Robert Taft. After his death in 1953, The New York Times described it as a “Senate controlled by the Republicans more out of courtesy than fact.” Senate Democrats, led by their newly chosen Minority Leader Lyndon Johnson, never pressed their advantage, even though Morse would eventually become a fiercely liberal Democrat. As Robert Caro makes clear in the Master of the Senate volume of his majestic series of LBJ biographies, Johnson believed that the best political strategy was to work with Eisenhower rather than oppose him."


If the Democrats lose a Senate seat before the 2022 midterms, Mitch McConnell is unlikely to be as accommodating.
Even though governors can appoint senators to fill vacancies temporarily, that arrangement should provide little comfort for the Democrats. Fifteen Democratic senators represent states with Republican governors. And seven of those senators (Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Jeanne Shaheen, Ben Cardin, and Joe Manchin) are over the age of 70.
Just last week, Mother Jones broke the story that Manchin had been contemplating leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent. After initial angry denials, Manchin confirmed the rumors, although he insisted that he would, in any case, continue to caucus with the Democrats. And while Kyrsten Sinema is significantly to Manchin’s left on issues such as climate and abortion, it is possible to imagine her abandoning the Democrats out of pique over the rage that has been directed at her by party activists.
...The real threat to Senate Democrats lies in the unalterable realities of human mortality. The point is not to be ghoulish but realistic. Container ships from China have been moving faster than congressional negotiations over the Biden reconciliation package. Manchin wrote a memo to Chuck Schumer at the end of July saying that he would not support a spending plan of more than $1.5 trillion. Only now—three months later—are Democrats finally adjusting to the reality that talk of $3.5 trillion in spending was little more than a left-wing air castle.
What makes this dilatory pace unfathomable is that Democrats know the disastrous implications of the loss of a single Senate seat in the midst of a legislative battle. In January 2010, Massachusetts Democrat Martha Coakley-- running what may have been the worst major campaign of the twenty-first century-- managed to lose the special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. That cost the Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority. As a result, the only way to pass the Affordable Care Act was for the House to rubber-stamp the flawed, already approved Senate version of the legislation.
What is strange is that the Democrats have been obsessed with human frailty in other political arenas. During the brief period when otherwise sensible people worried that Gavin Newsom could lose the California recall election, a major concern was that a GOP governor might get to appoint a successor to 87-year-old Dianne Feinstein.
Democrats are still reeling from the realization that Ruth Bader Ginsburg (whose Supreme Court seat is now filled by her antithesis, Amy Coney Barrett) should have retired rather than gambling that intellect and determination alone could defeat the Grim Reaper. That is why you could hear the audible wails from liberals when 83-year-old Stephen Breyer refused to retire at the end of the last Supreme Court term. The fear that McConnell-- if he is again elevated to majority leader-- would not allow Biden to fill a Supreme Court vacancy is as palpable as it is realistic.
Yet even now, as negotiations over the spending package take on a new urgency, the motivations for immediate action have little to do with the Democrats’ membrane-thin Senate majority. The biggest current concern is that failure to pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill (which has become inextricably linked to reconciliation) might jeopardize Terry McAuliffe’s chances in the Virginia gubernatorial race. And Biden wants to highlight the environmental provisions in his spending plan as he heads to Sunday’s climate change summit in Glasgow.
Even if there is (knock on wood) a finalized deal on a spending figure and a legislative framework this week, the path for Congress to pass the Biden plan is arduous. Avoiding a Senate filibuster through the budgetary maneuver called reconciliation is tricky in the best of circumstances. At any point, a handful of Democrats in the House or a single senator can derail the legislation with some new nonnegotiable demand. Up to now, during this glacially slow process, both moderates and left-wingers have sometimes behaved as if they would rather risk the entire enterprise than compromise.
The Democrats have been lucky that they still hold their 50-votes-plus-Kamala-Harris majority, 10 months into the legislative session. But as congressional Democrats work out how to pay for Biden’s spending plan, they should remember that taxes are not the only thing famed for being certain.

Let's not forget that after Feinstein-- who's half dead and senile-- the next oldest member of the Senate is Chuck Grassley, who turned 87 last month. The next two are also Republicans; Richard Shelby (R-AL) Jim Inhofe (R-OK), each of whom is 86. Inhofe turns 87 next month. McConnell himself is 78 and Jim Risch (R-ID) is 77. So... if we're talking about luck and actuarial tables, those senators need to be in the mix, even if Republican governors would be replacing each of them, except for McConnell. Kentucky has a law that forces the governor, a Democrat, to replace the senatorial corpse with a member of its own party. Presumably, though, Beshear could find a plausible NeverTrump-moderate to take McConnell's place, like former Secretary of State Trey Grayson, for example. That would be funny. Let's hope we get a chance to see if... before next week.

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