Senator Joe Manchin says “no” to President Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) proposal. His decision has massive ramifications well beyond this one piece of legislation. For many months, the West Virginia Senator has expressed his misgivings about the legislation – and he had a lot of them. They come in three areas.
First was the size of the Bill. In the earliest stages, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was suggesting a whopping $9 trillion dollar piece of legislation. Only a crazy avowed socialist could have even contemplated such a ridiculous amount. But that is Bernie.
Sanders agreed to a $6 trillion bill. Still out of the range of economic sanity. Finally, President Biden weighed in and set the marker at approximately $3.5 trillion. Still too much for Manchin and others. Reluctantly, Sanders and the progressive caucus agreed – but only if the Infrastructure Bill was linked to the huge Social Welfare Reconciliation Bill.
Biden promised to keep the bills linked – as did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Manchin disagreed – and several attempts to pass the linked bills had to be postponed. As a result, Biden convinced Pelosi that Democrats needed at least the passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill in time to help Democrat candidates running in the 2021 off-year elections. That did not happen, and Democrats took a drubbing in those elections.
The hardcore progressives in Congress felt that they needed to keep the bills linked to maintaining leverage for the bigger Build Back Better Bill. They were assured by Biden and Pelosi that their pet BBB Bill would eventually pass in the Senate even if unlinked. Manchin would come around. Consequently, the disconnected Infrastructure Bill was approved with the support of members of the Progressive Caucus, including its Chair, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. The hardline progressives were correct – and they got played.
That left BBB standing alone – and Manchin still had lots of problems with it. He still thought the Bill was too expensive and too big for a single vote. In normal times, the various proposals contained in the BBB Bill would have been addressed in numerous pieces of legislation. Manchin still believed that legislation of such monumental impact needed bipartisan support – especially in view of the Democrats narrow control on the House and Senate.
While the BBB bill was said to have broad public support, Democrat strategists failed to appreciate that there was a devil in the details. A good portion of the public tended to also agree with Manchin’s concerns over specific issues.
Manchin also had a problem with Biden’s and Pelosi’s legislative trickery. They first sold BBB as a ten-year proposition at $3.5 trillion dollars. They claimed to cut it back to $1.9 trillion – but that was accomplished by reducing many of the programs to much shorter lifetimes – some as little as one year. The reduction in the cost was illusionary because the real annual cost was not reduced.
Democrats then claimed that the 10-year economic impact was not applicable. They wanted the cost scored by the Congressional Budget Office on the shorter time frames – even though they knew that once enacted, the programs would most certainly be extended ad infinitum. It was legislative sleight-of-hand – and Manchin was not buying it.
Manchin – and the Republicans – were not about to be sucker-punched by Biden’s and Pelosi’s legislative chicanery. Manchin looked at the cost on a ten-year basis. He looked at the collection of programs contained in the supersized bill. He considered the legislative trickery and decided that he could not – in good conscience — vote for the Bill. He apparently determined that neither Biden nor Pelosi would be willing or able to make the necessary changes required to gain his approval – and even if THEY did, the progressives would vote against such a watered-down legislation.
Biden’s precipitous fall in the national polls also diminished his political capital at a time he needed it most. He had less power to pull the fence-sitters in Congress down to his side. While Manchin got the attention and the heat, there were other Democrats closely aligned to his thinking – and Biden was losing his ability to cajole them.
And then inflation took hold. It was no longer the concern that BBB WOULD trigger inflation, but that it would contribute to the already occurring inflation. Even if the Biden BBB proposal had merit in the past – and it did not – the sudden rise in inflation was the straw to break the proverbial camel’s back. This was not the time to be pouring more fuel on the inflationary fire.
Up until now, Democrats have been treating Manchin with kid gloves – fearful that angry attacks on the West Virginia Senator would make it harder to persuade him to support BBB. Now that he has said that he will vote “no” on BBB, the pent-up frustration has been unleashed – resulting in a chorus of attacks from members of the squad and old-line radicals like California Congresswoman Maxine Waters. It has come in a tweet from White House Secretary Jen Psaki – approved by Biden — accusing Manchin of breaking his word.
Manchin is not the type to bend to pressure or even harsh criticism. But the attacks could make it easier for him to justify a switch to the Republican side of the aisle. That still may be a longshot, but not as long as it was a few weeks ago.
Manchin could still change his mind on BBB before the likely GOP takeover of at least the House in January of 2023, but that is not likely. The GOP winning control in the November off-year election would further chill support of Biden’s grandiose legislative agenda.
With BBB dead in its present form, Biden’s election reform bills are the last remnants of his legacy legislative agenda, and they appear to have little to no chance of passing both chambers without eliminating the filibuster – and may not pass even then. Since neither Manchin and Arizona Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema – and possibly others — will not vote to abolish the filibuster, the so-called voting rights bills are most likely dead.
It is possible that Democrats can pass a few minor portions of the BBB Bill – or that Biden can pursue some temporary Executive Orders on the fringe. But none of that will compensate for the failure of his major proposals – proposals that he believed would put him up there with Franklin Roosevelt.
Basically, all this means that with three more years in office, Biden may well be a caretaker President with no proactive legislative agenda. Outside of a bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, he may have nothing upon which to place his imprimatur. No social welfare bill. No voting rights bill. No immigration bill. No solution to the border crisis and the surging crime. No foreign policy victories – and maybe more setbacks. And it seems his Covid policies are not working.
With his age and that sort of record … own Vice President not endorsing his announced intention to run for a second term … the progressives blaming him and Pelosi for the BBB failure, Biden may be entering the second year of his term essentially as a lame duck President.
So, there ‘tis.
Author: Larry Horist