The Sausage Making: With Housekeeping Mostly Done, We’re Back On Manchin Time

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 01: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) arrives for a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on November 01, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Your intermittent briefing on negotiations over the reconciliation bill.

While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) insists that his chamber will vote on the reconciliation bill by Christmas, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is showing no signs of urgency. 

Manchin met with President Joe Biden on Monday, and said he spoke with him again “briefly” Tuesday. He told reporters that he “wouldn’t say” Biden is successfully moving him closer to a yes vote on the package. 

Manchin’s newest ill-defined complaint is that, should programs in the package extend for longer than they currently are written to run, they would not be paid for. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) requested a silly CBO report Friday that scored a hypothetical bill where the programs all run for 10 years. (In this fictional scenario, lawmakers have not included payfors to match.) Democrats denounced the score as a stunt, but Graham described Manchin as “stunned” and “vindicated” by it. 

Democrats have finally cleared some other housekeeping from their plates: finishing the defense spending bill, keeping the government funded, raising the debt ceiling. But Manchin still seems opposed to moving the reconciliation package forward.

Light Applause 

  • The Senate did manage to get some stuff done — or almost has. It’s set to hike the debt ceiling and pass the defense authorization act this week. 
  • On the debt ceiling, Republicans agreed to a one-time filibuster carveout so Democrats can raise it on their own, the better for Republicans to attack them in campaign ads later. Democrats will raise the ceiling through the midterms. 
  • President Joe Biden has already signed legislation that’ll keep the government funded through mid-February. 
  • Of its December to-do list, the chamber is nearly finished. Expect pressure to shift back to the reconciliation bill, along with the reemergence of the enduring question: What does Manchin actually want?

Holiday Timing

  • Schumer keeps insisting that the Senate will vote on reconciliation by Christmas, with the White House signaling its support for this plan. 
  • The cracks are beginning to show, though. From Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), a member of the leadership team, to a reporter: “If this is not done in the next two weeks, we’ll come back in January and get it done. I believe in Christmas miracles, but it’s a very tight timeline.”
  • Some, like fellow leadership member Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), want Schumer to play hardball: “I just don’t think you can bring it to closure and finally close down the negotiation unless you have a date certain,” he said. “As soon as it gets anything near a green light from the parliamentarian, I think we should move quickly.” This would entail Schumer bringing the reconciliation bill to a vote before he has Manchin locked down, a huge risk on a huge piece of legislation. But as we’re seeing, it’s looking less and less certain that Manchin will ever get to yes otherwise — if at all.
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