A Few Notes on the State of Play

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September 23, 2021 8:12 a.m.

Last night, with a lead-in from our friend Ed Kilgore, I sketched out what I think must happen for the Democrats to make good on the work of the 2018 and 2020 election cycles and avoid electoral and policy catastrophe. Let me share a few notes on what it appears is happening.

The word I got from inside yesterday’s meetings was cautiously optimistic. No breakthroughs. But some of the prerequisites to a breakthrough. This write-up from Politico is pleasantly free of the standard Manchin-fluffery and I think gets to some of the key points. The biggest takeaway is that the President insisted and the Manchiners seemed to concede that they have to come up with a counter-proposal. This has freaked out a number of readers since it seems to concede that the topline number will be less than $3.5 trillion. But the demand for a counterproposal is a good thing not a bad thing.

As we noted yesterday, the real impasse at the moment is that the two sides aren’t even speaking the same language. We may get to an impasse over specifics. But we’re not there yet. So the problem is both worse and better than it seems on the surface. The Manchiners are demanding everyone else vote for their bill in exchange for a bunch of hand waving and goalpost moving. That won’t work. It’s not negotiable – literally – since it amounts to an existential threat. If that’s the deal at least a lot of folks from the Progressive Caucus (and I suspect many more) will vote to kill the bipartisan mini-bill and they will be totally right to do so.

The simple reality is that there was a cross party deal: the mini-bill and the reconciliation bill pass together. It wasn’t a deal for $3.5 trillion but it was for something in that ballpark. After the Manchiners got their vote in the Senate they tried to break the deal. Manchin tried to break it. Sinema tried to break it. And Josh Gottheimer and his crew in the House operating as the cat’s paws of Mark Penn and whoever is funding him tried to break it. There’s no ambiguity about that. The challenge now is to put things back together. When two sides lack trust you often have intermediaries who act as escrow agents for the things of value. The President and Speaker Pelosi were playing that role. Now they need to get back to playing that role. The Manchiners need to put a proposal on the table. Once they move from hand-waving to a proposal there’s going to need to be some tough negotiations to see if both sides can get to numbers they can live with. Whether they can isn’t clear. But if they can the President will then need to find a way to guarantee the deal. Because right now almost no one trusts the Manchiners. And that makes sense because they tried to break the deal.

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If you can get a framework for a deal then there are various ways you can guarantee it and get the timing to work. But the minimum is that you need a deal based on specifics. So it’s really in the Manchiners court … since they broke the deal.

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