Manchin’s Playing Everyone for Fools

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 7: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., departs after a Democrat luncheon on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Oct. 07, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

We went into the weekend thinking Congress was finally on the verge of passing a substantially reduced Build Back Better bill, at roughly $1.75 trillion. Joe Manchin was likely more involved in that negotiation than any other member of Congress. He just held a press conference on the Hill in which he not only refused to support it but actually trashed the whole proposal in entirely new ways – now saying he can’t vote on any version of it until he learns more about what’s happening on inflation, gets a report from the CBO and other complaints. He demanded a vote on the so-called BIF and said he’s open to voting against the whole Biden reconciliation bill.

One other dimension to this is that Manchin’s announcement came just as Democratic leadership seemed on the verge on getting House progressives to believe that they had the outlines of a recon bill covered and thus vote for the BIF in advance of a recon bill. In other words, he was about to get what he has claimed to have wanted: passing the BIF bill before reconciliation and still having leverage to shape the reconciliation bill after the rest of the party has surrendered its leverage. The odds of that happening now seem close to nil.

I really can’t make any judgment – just too tired of this drama – about why he would do that. But the most obvious explanation is that he wanted to short circuit the BIF getting passed. Why would he do that? Fill in the blanks.

Another possibility is that Manchin is just dead set on the idea that for him to “win” the rest of the party has to vote for his bill first so he doesn’t have to “cave” to the left. But it’s hard to see how today’s antics don’t make that outcome vastly less likely.

I’ve mentioned a few times that Manchin is a creature of the DC insider culture and seems to spend most of his time in the company of lobbyists and a few GOP senators. The business lobby set seems to be his most anchored friend set in DC and I think as likely as not he spent his weekend talking with those folks and that led to this. I think we’re at the point where everyone needs to concede that Manchin just isn’t negotiating in good faith. But I’m not sure even that’s it precisely. I think it’s even more that he picks up the coloration of whoever he’s talking to at a given moment. And that’s usually those guys.

The upshot really is the same. Yes, it would be very Joe Manchin-like for him to say this and come around to agreeing to the deal tomorrow. Sen. Brian Schatz who frequently acts as a kind of Senate-translator for Democratic partisans around the country went on Twitter to say that tone aside, the substance of Manchin’s position is the same. And the Senate needed a CBO score anyway to proceed with the reconciliation process. I’d love to believe. But we’ve been at this for months. That keeps not happening.

I think the more logical thing is to accept the likelihood that he will never agree to any version of this bill. It’s just infinite talking. Manchin comes from what is in our current politics a very conservative state. He’s not under any obligation to support what is after all a pretty progressive package. But in our political system he really is obligated to deal with his colleagues and the White House of his own party in some in good faith. But he’s just not. Whether this is conscious or simply not being that bright and very influence-able hardly matters at this point.

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