Joe Manchin Undercuts Biden's Agenda

[ Posted Monday, June 7th, 2021 – 16:25 UTC ]

Senator Joe Manchin may have just torpedoed much of President Joe Biden's agenda. He wrote an opinion piece for a local West Virginia newspaper where he reiterated his full support for the filibuster rule as it stands, and announced his opposition to the For The People Act (also known as "H.R. 1" or "S. 1"). His reason is specious, because what it amounts to is that the Republican Party should be allowed to pass as many voter-suppression laws as it pleases (without any attempt at bipartisanship, of course) in all the states where they hold the majority, and Democrats at the national level should do absolutely nothing to stop them -- unless and until 10 Republicans in the Senate see the error of their party's ways and suddenly decide to join with the Democrats in protecting the bedrock of American democracy. This is beyond magical reasoning, it is downright delusional.

In his article, Manchin proudly points to another bill -- one that would reinstate the Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the Supreme Court years ago -- as having bipartisan support. Therefore, Manchin concludes, protecting voting rights can still be done in a bipartisan manner! Except for the small detail of precisely how many Republican senators are supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act -- which now numbers "one." That, to state the obvious, is nine short of what would be needed to advance the bill. Manchin doesn't explain how these other nine GOP votes are supposed to magically appear, of course.

Senate Republicans are following Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan, which is always the same whenever a Democrat is in the White House: obstruct everything possible as much as possible, and then campaign during the next election on: "Democrats can't get anything done!" McConnell simply does not care whether the legislation he is blocking is right, good for the country, or even overwhelmingly beneficial for his own constituents. All that matters to him is the rankest sort of partisanship imaginable: if the country fails, the voters will blame Biden and the Democrats, and then they will reward Republicans at the voting booth. That's it. That's all McConnell (and virtually all the other Senate Republicans) stand for anymore.

Manchin seems content to live in a fantasy world where this is not true. He has pipe dreams of GOP senators supporting Democratic proposals just because they are the right thing to do. There is zero evidence of this, but that doesn't deter Manchin from his belief that (somewhere, over the rainbow) such bipartisanship is bound to break out any day now, just you wait!

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is doing what he can do to convince Manchin. Schumer has lined up a number of high-priority Democratic bills for votes in the upcoming few weeks, all of which are expected to fail to break the inevitable filibuster attempts. "See, Joe? It just ain't gonna happen!" is Schumer's main message, here. Whether it will be a convincing one is doubtful, however, after reading Manchin's article.

What this means, on a practical level, is that major portions of Biden's agenda will never become enacted. This includes: securing and protecting voting rights, raising the minimum wage, police reform, climate change action, gun safety, worker's rights, improvements to Obamacare, and many other Democratic priorities -- all are now absolute non-starters. If Manchin won't reform the filibuster rules at all, then none of these are going to move forward, period. Unless, of course, 10 Republican senators decide to support any of them, the chances of which I would put at slightly lower than monkeys suddenly flying out of my hindquarters.

Biden and the rest of the Democrats won't be completely helpless, but they're only really going to get two big bites at the legislative apple before the midterms, absent a change of heart by Manchin. They will be able to pass one reconciliation bill for the current year's budget, and then they'll be able to pass next year's budget -- all on party-line votes. As long as Manchin is on board, of course, since Democrats can't afford to lose a single vote in the Senate.

A lot can be accomplished through budget reconciliation, since it loosely covers "anything that affects the federal budget, negatively or positively." But this loophole is narrower than it looks, because any and all changes have to get the Senate parliamentarian's approval (at least, as things stand now -- Schumer could always disregard the parliamentarian's opinion, or even remove the current one and install one a little more amenable to getting some things done).

Much of Biden's two current big proposals (the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan) would probably be deemed kosher for budget reconciliation. The plans are largely about raising new revenue in the form of corporate and upper-income taxes, and then spending this money on all sorts of beneficial things. That is all budget-related, obviously, so even without filibuster reform Biden might rack up some major accomplishments.

The real question is what the voters are going to think about Democrats, though. Joe Biden has a big wind at his back, economically. The economy is just going to keep improving through at least the end of this year, and likely all through next year too. This is the biggest indicator of how a party does, even in midterm elections. When times are good, the party in power usually benefits (whether they deserve the credit or not). When times are bad, voters usually prefer putting the "out" party in power, to see if they can do any better. By this time next year -- when the midterm campaigns really begin heating up -- if the economic picture is incredibly rosy, then Democrats could break the historical pattern and at least retain control of the House and the Senate. That's absent some other extraneous issue forcing its way to the political fore, of course. If Biden and the Democrats do manage to pass sweeping new programs, then those programs will likely get up and running in a big way all throughout 2022. This will help, too, as voters see tangible changes in their own lives (assuming Democrats do enough to remind them: "We did all this for you -- while Republicans tried to kill it all").

The question is whether even that will be enough, though. Democratic voters are not in a very patient mood, these days. They're getting a little tired of hearing what wonderful things could happen, when years go by and none of it ever actually does. If Manchin sticks to his guns, then even casting a vote might be a lot harder to do next November, especially for Black and other minority voters. That could have a heavy influence on the outcome of the midterms as well.

But that's what Democrats are now left with. Joe Manchin has drawn his red line, and that red line means major portions of the Democratic agenda just are not going to happen. For the next year and a half, they are going to be limited to whatever they can squeeze into budgetary bills, because everything else they propose is not even going to be possible in the Senate. Joe Manchin just guaranteed that.

The cruel irony is going to become apparent if Democrats do lose control of either chamber of Congress next year. Because if that comes to pass, then Republicans are certainly not going to care one iota about gaining bipartisan support for any of their own agenda. They'll do what they've always done, without a second thought for the likes of Joe Manchin: they will pass as much as they can on strictly partisan lines, period.

Joe Manchin is pleading with his own party and the Republicans to keep to Marquess of Queensbury boxing rules. Meanwhile, the Republicans are picking up baseball bats, switchblades, and brass knuckles, to fight as dirty and as fiercely as can be imagined. The only thing that could change this is Manchin actually waking up to this reality, but -- sadly -- that doesn't seem very likely, at this point.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


10 Comments on “Joe Manchin Undercuts Biden's Agenda”

  1. [1] 
    andygaus wrote:

    I wonder if it will be possible to make a case to the voters, saying, "Here is a list of the bills we have passed in the House and that the Senate refuses to consider. Send us a couple more Democratic senators and you can have lower prescription drug prices, voting rights, response to climate change, and a higher minimum wage."

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Since Manchin made his seemingly definite stand against both filibuster reform and specifically the federal voting reform bill HR 1/S 1, I have been watching in mild awe as my crew of favorite political commentators attempt to explain the change in plans.

    Up to the day before yesterday, I was told by basically everybody who follows politics for an audience, Manchin has been playing an elaborate game with Biden and Sen. Schumer, holding out for some prize before he concedes the inevitable and votes with his party to deep-six the filibuster. It was 'the long game', 'kabuki theater', 'inside politics', 'just the way the game has to be played.'

    Now, suddenly, Manchin is a selfish or deluded man who, all this time, actually meant what he often said: he doesn't want to lose the filibuster, consequences be damned.

    It's enough to make one doubt the value of reading political commentary.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    True dat.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    There are a lot of bat shit crazy things happening of late and it is time again to take a break from it all for a while.

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Why would I take a break? YOLO so now is my time to pay attention. Besides, I love this stuff.

  6. [6] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    "Give me a break.
    Give me a break.
    Break me off a piece of that BIG FAT LIE."

    Shame on Manchin for not falling into line like Bernie and the squad. If they can abandon their agenda of pushing Biden left after the election then there is no reason for Manchin not to do the same.

    Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

    "It's enough to make one doubt the value of reading political commentary."

    "True dat."

    Well, you have nothing to worry about from political commentary here as this site is mostly political propaganda promoting the show.

  7. [7] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    "The only thing that could change this is Manchin actually waking up to this reality, but--sadly-- this doesn't seem very likely, at this point."

    Bernie and the squad could change this by not falling into line as there are more of them than Manchin.

    You can change this by actually waking up to reality and start promoting alternatives to the Deathocrats and Republikillers instead of promoting THE big Lie.

    You try to make a big deal out of Manchin "undercutting" Biden's agenda but all you are really doing is undercutting democracy by promoting THE Big Lie.

    Shame on you.

  8. [8] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    I would like to see Manchin on the Sunday morning shows and get asked the following:

    "It is said that if you aren't part of the solution, then you're part of the problem. What are you doing to promote the bi-partisanship that you contend is necessary for the legislative process?"

    Followed up by:

    "Are you currently working together with a group of your fellow democratic and republican senators to help write or sponsor any significant bipartisan legislation?"

    followed up by:

    "What actions do you plan to take going forward to develop bi-partisan legislation, or are you simply demanding that your fellow democrats do what you are unwilling to do yourself?"

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I posted this late in last column's comments section,

    Could we simply trade Joe Manchin for, say, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)?

    Facing reelection next year she's scheduled to get major flak from Trump. So she's arguably already half way out of the GQP. Further, she voted both to establish and later to NOT repeal Obamacare. And she voted against Trump in his second Impeachment.

    ALTHOUGH ALASKA is "Republican" Trump only won it by 10 points last year (53-43%) so this is not like an Alabama or Idaho. And Murkowski wouldn't even have to turn Democrat -- just so long as she's not #MarchingWithMitch anymore.

    The upside is she leaves the madness behind. Period, full stop. No more Big Lie!

    The downside not so bad. Of all politicians Murkowski can pull this off successfully.

    Remember how she beat the Tea Party candidate along with the field via a freaking write-in campaign? WITH the last name "Murkowski?"

    She can do this.

  10. [10] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I'd like to hold out that We're still in the Kabuki Theater phase of getting Manchin & Sinema onboard. But my faith is starting to get worn down.

    This fork in the road that faces the Democrats represents an existential threat to both the Party as well as our Constitutional Republic. I can't believe this story is over.

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