Joe Manchin Gets His Comeuppance

[ Posted Wednesday, September 28th, 2022 – 15:37 UTC ]

A U.S. senator just got his comeuppance this week, and it really couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy. Senator Joe Manchin was forced to pull his pet bill (that would have greenlighted a pipeline in West Virginia), due to lack of bipartisan support. Because he backed down, the government now appears to be in no danger of shutting down this Friday. Both the Senate and the House appear to be on a glide path to passing a short-term budget deal that will kick the "government shutdown" can down the road to mid-December, at the end of the lame-duck Congress. So all around, it's good news: the government will continue to be funded, and Joe Manchin has now gotten a taste of his own medicine.

Forgive me if I sound a wee bit bitter (or feeling a good bit of schadenfreude, more like), but after a full year and a half of watching Joe Manchin essentially proclaim himself king of the Democratic agenda, it's hard not to feel a "what goes around comes around" vibe.

Manchin's pet bill was on the subject of "permitting reform." Big projects, like an oil or natural gas pipeline, face a daunting array of regulations to meet before they are allowed to be built. The process can take years. Manchin is looking to cut some of this red tape, to allow such projects to move forward more quickly, without having to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops. In an effort to convince his fellow Democrats to vote for it, he added provisions that will also benefit green energy projects like windmill farms (which also face a daunting array of regulations). This is in keeping with his attitude on energy in general, which could be summed up as: "Make things easier for coal and other fossil fuel industries, but also allow the progressives to do some of their green stuff too, in order to get them on board."

Manchin was hopeful for a large slice of Republican support as well. Getting rid of regulations is somewhat of a mantra for Republicans -- they've been singing this tune for many decades, after all. So it would seem like a natural fit. Sure, they'd grumble a bit about the green parts of the bill, but in the end they'd wholeheartedly support it.

This didn't happen.

Sometimes, when an unrelated bill is attached to a big gigantic "must-pass" bill, it is the underlying "must-pass" part that is a bridge too far for one party or the other to vote for. Such was not the case here. The budget bill is sailing through the Senate with plenty of Republican support (far more than the minimum of 10 GOP votes necessary). And in this particular case, it isn't even the unrelated bill itself -- if one of their own members had written it, the GOP probably would have gladly voted for exactly the same bill en masse.

This time, it was all about payback. From both sides of the aisle, in fact.

Let's start with the Republican payback. Manchin's permitting reform bill has a history. A few months back, Manchin shocked Democrats by proclaiming he was finally ready to deal. He agreed to a small subset of Joe Biden's ambitious legislative agenda, and a compromise bill was thrown together by Manchin and Chuck Schumer that actually passed (under budget reconciliation rules, which meant it passed even though it didn't get a single Republican vote in the Senate). This was the "Inflation Reduction Act," and it came at the last possible moment for a legislative win to have a big impact on the midterm elections. The pound of flesh Manchin demanded from Schumer when agreeing to this compromise was that his permitting reform bill would get a guaranteed vote in the near future. That's why Manchin's bill was attached to the budget extension bill this week.

Republicans were absolutely livid when Manchin cut this deal. They were downright furious that he had done so. Now, Manchin had never actually made any kind of promise to any Republican that he wasn't going to cut a deal with his fellow Democrats on a budget reconciliation bill, but all the GOP senators assumed that this was true. They thought Manchin was acting as a perfect Republican mole within the Democratic Party, to impede all progress on Biden's agenda. When he relented on certain parts of it and the I.R.A. made it to Biden's desk, the Republicans acted as if Manchin had somehow betrayed them (which wasn't actually the case, seeing as how he is a Democrat and he never made any sort of promise to the Republicans).

This week, the Republican senators got their revenge. They tanked Manchin's bill -- a bill they ordinarily would have not only voted for but wholeheartedly supported -- as a payback for him not doing what they expected he would earlier. They punished him for actually being a Democrat, to put it another way.

But Manchin's comeuppance was also cheered by plenty of Democrats, especially over in the House. If Manchin's permitting bill had made it through the Senate, there was no guarantee House Democrats were all going to vote for it. Indeed, two Senate Democrats (Bernie Sanders and Virginia's Tim Kaine, since the West Virginia pipeline Manchin was trying to get greenlighted would have run through Virginia as well) publicly stated they would not vote for Manchin's bill. Even more (mostly progressive) Democrats in the House were already balking at supporting Manchin's bill.

Which was, to some degree, just as personal as what the Senate Republicans just did. For that we have to go back further, to understand exactly why the word "comeuppance" is precisely the right one to use here.

Last year, Manchin was a holdout on Biden's proposed "Build Back Better Act." He thought it was too expensive and he disagreed with some of the proposed programs (mostly the ones that would have helped poor people). At the same time, Manchin was championing a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure he had put together in the Senate. The infrastructure bill passed the Senate and was sent to the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to bring it up for a vote, though, because House Democrats were demanding both bills essentially pass simultaneously, to ensure Manchin (and to a lesser degree, Kyrsten Sinema) didn't stab them in the back. So Manchin swore he'd hammer out a compromise on Build Back Better and finally convinced all the other Democrats that this bill would soon be voted on in both houses.

So Pelosi backed down and allowed the bipartisan infrastructure bill to pass and go to Biden's desk for his signature. And then Manchin essentially laughed in everyone's face. He dragged out the talks on Build Back Better for months, and then right before the end of the year just pulled entirely out of the deal and said he couldn't support any of it. Which doomed B.B.B.

Many Democrats, led by the House progressives, were enraged. They engaged in a bout of: "See, we told you this was going to happen!" with all the moderates who had believed Manchin's false promises. They felt played, and rightfully so.

Remember: B.B.B. was supposedly promised a quick vote after Manchin's bipartisan infrastructure bill was allowed to pass. Which didn't happen, because of Manchin. And now Manchin got a promise of a quick vote for his pet permitting reform bill from the rest of the Democratic Party. Which didn't happen. Mostly because he couldn't convince Republicans to vote for it, but even so, the irony's pretty thick, you have to admit.

So Senator Manchin is now finding out what it has been like for the rest of his party, during his prolonged antics on President Joe Biden's agenda. Is he feeling frustrated and exasperated? One certainly hopes so. Is he feeling betrayed? Serves him right. Is he feeling angry? Welcome to the club, pal.

Will he learn a lesson from all of this? That is doubtful. But whether he does or not, it certainly is karmically appropriate for Joe Manchin to get such a comeuppance in such a dramatic fashion. As I started with: it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “Joe Manchin Gets His Comeuppance”

  1. [1] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    As the Manchin bill would now need to be separate, my thought was whether he'd be willing to offer a carve out.

    More specifically, assuming he was, what would be the deal? Voting reform? Abortion?

    What would be large enough to make a co-joined pair of bills get all D senators, and even the CPC, on board?

  2. [2] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Oh, sorry about this CW, but just to help the Google Search engine and the like, Texas Gov Greg Abbott is a little piss baby.

Comments for this article are closed.