Manchin and BBB:
Lessons Learned and Where We Go Next
- by Steve Garone, Member, Wayland Democratic Town Committee
NOTE: Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily those of any other WDTC members.
This blog is one of a series to be published by members of the Wayland Democratic Town Committees and guest contributors.
On the weekend this blog is being written, Joe Manchin told Fox News that his support for the Build Back Better (BBB) bill has ended (was it ever there in the first place?). This has sent shock waves throughout the Democratic Party and among progressives, eliciting anger, profanity, and frustration. Even the White House has issued official pointed statements questioning Manchin’s honesty and commitment to his word.
At this point, all signs indicate that any trust progressives – and even many Democrats who would consider themselves “centrists” – had in Manchin has dissipated to zero. The question is, what is to be done now?
It is of course possible that Manchin’s comments were intended not to communicate finality, but a negotiating position – possible, but it doesn’t seem likely. He has, after all, been “negotiating” for months now, and while Biden pushed Manchin over the line with the rescue bill earlier in the year (according to Bob Woodward’s book “Peril”), Manchin played the same games in that case as well. While many things are possible, it seems as if the bill as it is constructed today will go nowhere.
Manchin’s latest excuse is that he favors a few programs that can be funded for at least 10 years as opposed to a wider variety that can only be funded for a few. His “logic” is that you then have to rely upon Congress to continuously refund them after a few years. While on the surface this sounds as if it makes sense, experience tells us that if a program is popular, it takes more effort to not fund it than to continue it. Social security, the ACA, etc., are good examples.
Arguably, the angriest folks may be progressives, whose congressional representatives have been lamenting all day that they knew all along that Manchin would never keep his word and come around. That view seems contradictory to their strategy which tied movement on the infrastructure bill to a vote on BBB as “leverage” – after all, if you know your leverage won’t work, why would you use it in that way? Perhaps the governorship of Virginia and Biden’s poll numbers would have been saved if the infrastructure bill were passed much earlier in the year.
Manchin's game may also be to try to "shift the blame" for BBB not passing in its current form. As is often the case, the "optics" win goes to the side that is NOT saying "no". Right now, he is the nay-sayer, but if his pulling support results in a tailoring back of programs that cause extreme progressives to pull their votes, that could change.
Putting these thoughts aside, we are where we are, and the question is, where do we go from here? We can’t rely on either Manchin or Sinema to do the right thing, so the solution appears to be to limit their power. How? For us, the answer is simple: Elect more Democrats. In these times, however, that may not be so easy. Extreme progressives are angry, and while they have “given Biden time”, that time is running out and the fear is that they will be eager to beat up on Biden and Democrats in general – a bad decision, but one they may be willing to make. Black voters came out for Biden with high expectations that are not being met. Some voting blocks will need to be convinced that electing more Democrats as the solution makes sense, and that could mean an uphill battle. Messaging and campaigning will need to be carefully crafted to convincingly make this case.
However, no one votes for anyone until next year, and we have the short term with which to deal. We – and people in Congress – can argue until we are blue in our collective faces as to right vs. wrong, but the objective reality which we must accept is that we – the citizenry of the United States of America – did not elect a Congress willing to pass BBB as it currently exists. It may be that Democrats will need to bow to Manchin’s demands – few programs funded over the long term – to either get something done, or to call Manchin’s bluff. It must be done quickly. We then need to prepare to elect many more Democrats and/or to put the likes of Manchin and Sinema out to pasture.