The Sausage Making: Democrats Try To Revive Voting Push As Manchin Stalls Reconciliation Bill

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15: U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks through a hallway in the basement of the U.S. Capitol December 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he would support ... WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15: U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks through a hallway in the basement of the U.S. Capitol December 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he would support to push the vote for the Build Back Better legislation to 2022 and for the Senate to pass a voting rights bill instead. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Your intermittent briefing on negotiations over the reconciliation bill.

Many Democrats are calling for a shift in focus, putting voting rights legislation front and center as Build Back Better negotiations continue to drag. Everyone from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to President Joe Biden has endorsed the priority swap, saying voting rights is the most pressing domestic issue. 

While the news has Democratic Twitter users cheering, it may indicate more about Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) opposition to the reconciliation bill than it does a breakthrough on voting rights.

The filibuster is just as present and just as intractable — thanks to Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — as it was the last time these same people were having these same conversations. Sinema still supports a 60-vote threshold, Politico reported Wednesday. And a desire for voting rights legislation without the gumption to reform the filibuster is akin to wanting to win a marathon while refusing to run. 

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told me Tuesday he has “nothing to report” in terms of any shifting of the filibuster status quo. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) told a group of us that the recent meetings involving Manchin have focused on the talking filibuster reform — something they’ve been trying to sell him on for months. 

Now, as Schatz and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) pointed out, there has been some movement on the filibuster more broadly: Republicans let Democrats use a one-time carveout to raise the debt ceiling this week. 

“We just changed the rules as it relates to the debt limit,” Schatz told me. “And I think that was important. But if we can do it for markets, we can do it for democracy.” 

Getting voting rights done, like everything in the Senate, depends on Manchin. But this sudden shift in priorities, back to something Democrats have already unsuccessfully tried in earnest to get done, may signal more about the grim fate of the reconciliation bill than it does new hope on the voting rights and filibuster front. 

Reason to Disbelieve 

  • Part of the reason that it’s hard to believe Manchin has meaningfully shifted his position on the filibuster is his own words. On Tuesday, he said that he wants any rule change to be bipartisan — all but precluding the possibility of filibuster reform meaningful enough that it allows passage of voting rights legislation.
  • A group of Democrats has been meeting with Manchin to try to persuade him, and Manchin has reportedly been reaching out to Republicans. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe getting Manchin on board tips the Sinema domino too. But we’ve been here before and nothing came of it. 

Trouble in Reconciliation City 

  • The reconciliation bill potentially being punted until after Christmas is another sign of the difficulty the majority of the caucus has had in getting Manchin on board. Some reports show that the child tax credit is a major point of contention, though Manchin has maintained publicly that he supports the program. 
  • He has also been very public about his cost concerns, despite having already successfully whittled the bill down from $6 trillion to $1.75. 
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