Congressional Democrats have spent this final Sunday before Christmas in a state of collective freakout, over West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin finally and unequivocally tanking President Biden’s Build Back Better spending plan. And that’s a shame — the response from Democrats, that is.
Here’s what’s going on, to catch everyone up to speed. The rest of Biden’s agenda is now essentially at the mercy of whatever happens in the midterm election year of 2022. That’s because the Senate has now adjourned for 2021. Without, of course, passing Biden’s $1.7 trillion Build Back Better spending plan — the plan that, among other things, sought to extend the monthly child tax credit stimulus checks for a year. Because Democrats barely control the Senate, and in fact only control it on a technicality, Manchin coming out as a “No” on the bill in a Sunday interview sent its prospects down the tubes for now. And there’s no guarantee, at least not yet, that its chances of passage look any better come January.
Manchin’s middle finger to Biden
Of all venues, Manchin — again, a Democrat — chose the Fox News Sunday broadcast on Sunday, December 19, as the opportunity to finally declare he won’t support the bill in its current form, and that’s that. Manchin’s “No” puts him in league with 50 Republicans against the bill, so there’s the majority against it.
Does that mean the provisions in the bill, like the stimulus check extension, will never see the light of day? Of course not. It’s not the fault of Sen. Manchin that the Biden administration decided to “kitchen sink” its domestic agenda, throwing every priority the administration could think of into one staggering Frankenstein of a bill — and not even the first bill with a price tag above a trillion dollars this year, either. A trillion, of course, is one of those numbers that rarely occurs naturally in the real world. There aren’t even a trillion people on the planet. But once politicians win their local popularity contest and get sent to Washington DC to spend other people’s money — the trillion-dollar legislation starts flying.
Just blame the guy you can’t convince
One approach, now that the administration’s go-for broke, all-or-nothing legislative package has gone down in flames, is to break it apart. The child tax credit stimulus check extension, for example, is probably the most popular aspect of Build Back Better among voters. Instead of that, though, Democrats for the moment have chosen to do the same thing that members of a party do whenever they’re in power:
It’s a hell of a lot easier to just get personal and blame the guy who won’t fall in line. Instead of doing the other thing — actually legislating. Convincing your fellow man and woman of the soundness of your position, horse-trading, negotiating.
The same party that spent four years demonizing the Republican Senate for marching in lockstep with President Trump’s agenda is now ready to tar and feather Sen. Manchin because he won’t do the same for theirs.
Obviously, none of you have read a history book. What you’re witnessing now is actually one of the best things about American democracy. Specifically, it’s the absence of a concentration of power built into the system. Interestingly, if you stop the average person on the street and ask them what they think makes America great? They’re likely to tell you things like our freedom of the press. Or, perhaps, our right to free speech, to peacefully assemble. That kind of thing. Completely oblivious to the fact that even countries led by despots, like Russia, have a similar bill of rights.
White House: It’s all Manchin’s fault
The difference is that here, unlike there, power is not concentrated in one person or one branch of government.
It shouldn’t matter one bit to you whether Sen. Manchin came out against the bill today because he’s some sort of independently minded maverick, or completely in the pocket of some special interest group, or some other reason. This is the system, and these are the rules. It’s certainly not the controversial West Virginia Senator’s fault that Democrats couldn’t convince enough voters last year to give them more than a just-barely-there Senate majority.
Meanwhile: If, like me, you think this notion of power keeping power in check which the framers built into our system of governance is one of the best things about it, then you should likewise feel aghast at the regrettable inclination among both parties to change the rules when they don’t like an outcome. Any rules, from packing the court to ditching the filibuster. This is the kind of thing children do, changing the rules, when things don’t go their way on the playground.
And give me a break with one Democrat after another howling to the press today that Sen. Manchin is the source of everything wrong with the world. Rather than take an introspective look at what went wrong — to greet failure with a resolve to identity what happened and to try something new next time around — the White House on Sunday released a long, embarrassing screed lashing out at Manchin. It’s all his fault, in other words. The common lament among Democrats is that “one man (Manchin) shouldn’t be able to thwart a party’s agenda.”
It’s not one man.
It’s actually a group of 51 in this case, and it includes men and women.
Focus on COVID-19
No wonder that, during the first year of this president who promised to “shut down the virus” and restore comity and bipartisanship in Washington, COVID-19 is more out of control than ever.
Inflation is at a three-decade high. Crime is soaring (in the words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “There is an attitude of lawlessness in our country that springs from I don’t know where”). Rancor between the parties still feels very much like it did last year, under President Trump. Accordingly, Biden’s approval rating has plummeted.
“The thing that we should all be directing our attention towards (is) the variant … we have (COVID) coming back at us in so many different aspects in different ways. It’s affecting our lives again.”
Quite right. You know who said those words on Sunday?
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.