Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) latest torpedoing of a deal carefully negotiated within the Democratic caucus provoked Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) very candid anger over the weekend.
Sanders appeared unable to contain his ire Sunday, cutting across ABC host Martha Raddatz as she characterized Manchin as “abruptly” pulling out of negotiations over a few pieces of the long-dead Build Back Better reconciliation bill.
“He didn’t abruptly do anything,” Sanders said. “He has sabotaged the President’s agenda.”
“If you check the record, six months ago, I made it clear that you have people like Manchin — Sinema, to a lesser degree — who are intentionally sabotaging the President’s agenda, what the American people want, what a majority of us in the Democratic caucus want. Nothing new about this,” Sanders continued. “And the problem was that we continued to talk to Manchin like he was serious. He was not.”
Sanders pointed out that Manchin is a “major recipient” of fossil fuel money, and that he’s received plentiful campaign donations from “Republican billionaires.”
The senator dismissed Manchin’s inflation concerns — the excuse Manchin provided for ending talks, though inflation had been high throughout months of negotiations — as “the same nonsense Manchin has been talking about for a year.”
“In my humble opinion, Manchin represents the very wealthiest people in this country, not working families in West Virginia or America,” Sanders added.
After speaking emotionally on the existential threat of climate change — Manchin has repeatedly killed provisions to mitigate it, including in this latest reversal — Sanders transitioned to calling for voters to elect candidates who will give Democrats the numbers needed in Congress to pass climate and economic legislation that the majority of the party supports.
“We need more progressive Democrats who are gonna fight for workers,” he said, echoing Manchin’s September 2021 quip that Democrats should have gotten more liberals elected if they don’t like his behavior.
On Thursday, Manchin blew up negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), reportedly stunning staffers who’d already been writing out the legislative text. The new package, made from the dregs of the sweeping reconciliation bill Manchin killed last winter after stringing Democrats along for months, would have included climate change mitigation, some prescription drug cost remedies, a must-pass extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies and tax hikes on wealthy Americans.
While Democrats, even very frustrated ones, treated Manchin with kid gloves during previous negotiations out of concern for offending the senator and toppling the deal-making process, their increasing candor seems to suggest that few people are holding out any hope that Manchin will seriously reengage.
In their reactions late last week, many of Manchin’s colleagues called him out by name.
“It’s infuriating and nothing short of tragic that Senator Manchin is walking away, again, from taking essential action on climate and clean energy,” said Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN).
“Senator Manchin’s refusal to act is infuriating,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) added.
Schumer and the White House have been a bit more reserved. In a statement where he vowed to take executive action on climate in light of the congressional stallout, President Joe Biden didn’t name Manchin specifically, but encouraged Congress to pass a tiny reconciliation bill that would extend the ACA subsidies and empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
It’s a sign of how Democrats, much as they may want too, can’t yet write Manchin off altogether. Without the ACA subsidy extension — which must be done through the reconciliation process due to Republican opposition — over 13 million people are projected to lose their health care coverage or watch their premiums skyrocket next year.
Many of those people would find out about the change in their health care coverage status in October, just as voting begins for the midterms.