While the Democrats nominally hold the slimmest of margins in the Senate — with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the deciding majority vote when a ballot is decided completely along party lines — in practice, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) holds the keys to the successful passage of any bill that his caucus may try to pass.
Along with Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Manchin is one of the few Democratic mavericks who refuses to toe the line on President Biden’s legislative agenda, including the $3.5 trillion budget bill that progressive Democrats see as an integral part of the separate $1 trillion bi-partisan infrastructure bill recently passed by the Senate.
Now, the word is emerging from Washington that Manchin is poised to scuttle the proposed budget bill because he can only bring himself to support as paltry an amount as $1 trillion of the proposed spending.
Axios is reporting that Manchin “has privately warned the White House and congressional leaders that he has specific policy concerns with President Biden’s $3.5 trillion social spending dream.”
If Manchin sticks to his guns, it means that it will become impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to enact Biden’s “Build Back Better” plans, dooming such progressive priorities as universal preschool and free community college.
Besides Manchin’s opposition to the massive increase in investment in the American people, his and Senator Sinema’s opposition to eliminating the filibuster has already made the passage of the budget bill a tremendously difficult task.
This is primarily due to the fact that the possibility of peeling off 10 Republican Senators to meet the 60 vote threshold for passing legislation without resorting to the budget reconciliation process (subject to the whims of the Senate parliamentarian as to what may or may not be included in such a process) is as slim as the chance that Donald Trump will voluntarily confess his crimes and turn himself into the authorities.
Among the “deep and substantive” policy concerns that Axios says that Manchin is opposing are the plans to spend $400 billion for home caregivers and proposals for tax credits for children and their care, free community college, and universal preschool.
In addition to his spending concerns, Manchin is equally skeptical of how the federal government will pay for the spending included in the budget bill, disdaining the accounting forecasting tricks that allow for optimistic tax revenue projections.
In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last week, Senator Manchin called for a “strategic pause” on spending, arguing that the government needs to keep money in reserve because of inflation and the continuation of the COVID pandemic’s economic fallout.
Despite the seeming threat to his agenda that Manchin appears to pose, President Biden doesn’t believe that Manchin would dare to take the mantle that Senator John McCain wore when he single-handedly put an end to Republican dreams of repealing Obamacare with his fateful thumbs down vote in 2017 on the GOP-sponsored legislation.
“Joe at the end has always been there,” Biden said last night, expressing his confidence that he could negotiate with the Senator on an already scaled-back budget proposal..
“He’s always been with me. I think we can work something out. I look forward to speaking with him,” the president hopefully expressed.
Progressives are speculating that it is Manchin’s corporate ties that are pushing him to parsimony when it comes to government spending, with opposition to repealing the overly generous Republican tax giveaway of 2017 and increasing IRS crackdowns on billionaire tax cheats the primary motivation for limiting federal expenditures.
Still, the only thing that can eliminate Senator Manchin’s veto power over the progressive Democratic agenda is for the party to increase its majority in the Senate to the point where the Democrats can afford to lose his vote and still prevail.
This makes next year’s 2022 midterms all the more important if we want this country to be able to recover from the misbegotten era of the Donald Trump presidency.
Original reporting by Hans Nichols at Axios.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.