More on BIF Envy and Dem Culs-De-Sac #2

October 19, 2021 9:57 a.m.

More of the conversation from TPM Reader MM

I agree with PT that the Dems didn’t “drive themselves into a cul-de-sac”, because they had no real choice.

But I disagree with much of the rest of his analysis. First, and most obviously, it is manifestly untrue that Manchin and Sinema haven’t learned the lessons of the past 30 years: they learned those lessons quite well. Their goals are simply at variance with, or at best skew to, many or most of goals of the rest of the Democratic caucus. Should they be Democrats? Nothing could matter less. It says ‘D’ after their names, and without them we wouldn’t even have these issues to worry about and argue over.

First, in regard to the filibuster. Sinema has said nothing substantive about the filibuster, as far as I can recall; she simply opposes ending it or modifying it in any way that would affect the status quo ante. Manchin has spoken intelligibly about the filibuster (even if I and almost all the rest of the Democratic Senate caucus disagrees with him), but the sincerity of those statements (all of them nominally ‘institutional’ in spirit) is questionable. My belief is that he opposes ending or changing the filibuster simply because much or most of the legislation that might pass in a narrow-Dem-majority Senate (i.e., one in which his vote alone could not stop dead anything that he didn’t like, but the majority could not overcome a filibuster) quite probably would not be to his liking. In the present situation, the filibuster gives him (and Sinema also) a veto, the power of a president, over anything he doesn’t like. Absent that, which only happens in a 50/50 tie, he needs the filibuster to block the stuff he and all the Republicans dislike but every other Dem wants.

Second, Manchin doesn’t care if the screwing over of his caucus makes everyone look bad because, first, he couldn’t care less about anyone but himself, and second, in point of fact it doesn’t make everyone look bad: it doesn’t make him look bad to his constituency, which, to repeat myself, is the only aspect of ‘caring’ that he cares about. And Sinema cares only about what matters to her corporate backers.

Third, there isn’t anything that the Democrats could have done differently to avoid the present situation, except elect more Democratic senators. The situation arises from a 50/50 tie and two intransigent conservatives. End of story. One thing they might have done differently, which wouldn’t have affected the current status of the Biden agenda but would have made the Dems look a little less naive or feckless, would have been never to seriously entertain anything that Manchin ever said about being “open to consider” anything.  Any such talk from Manchin isn’t worth the air it took to say it.

Finally, it isn’t at all a matter of “simply lett[ing] the Manchin caucus get its way”. The rest of the Dem caucus has no leverage whatsoever, so far as I can see or ever have read from those who know more about it than I ever will, over “the Manchin caucus get[ing] its way”. Leverage arises from being able to give something that is desired and otherwise could not be had, or deny something that is desired and otherwise could be had. We got squat of that.

Bottom line: you win some, and you lose the rest. We haven’t lost this one yet, but we need to see things with cold-eyed realism, as they actually are, to have any possibility of salvaging whatever we can.

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