Joe Manchin is pumping the brakes.
While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a deadline of Sept. 27 for Congress to deliver both the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that has already cleared the Senate and a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, the Democratic senator from West Virginia says that’s not happening.
“We don’t have the need to rush into this and get it done within one week because there’s some deadline we’re meeting or someone’s going to fall through the cracks,” he said Sunday. “There’s no way we can get this done by the 27th if we do our jobs.”
He’s right. Without the support of every Senate Democrat, the reconciliation bill won’t pass. And Manchin is not alone in his opposition, though he is the most vocal member of the Democratic resistance. In addition to his concerns about the rushed deadline, Manchin is flatly saying that the $3.5 trillion price tag is too rich for his blood (though who knows how many trillions he will end up compromising on, later?).
The bigger question is: Why are we doing this in the first place? Most people don’t realize just how much money we’re talking about. Back in March, we passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus, which USA Today noted was, “by far, the largest economic package ever approved by Washington.” This dwarfs that.
Now, the two bills are different in some obvious and important ways. Unlike the stimulus bills, the infrastructure bill would be paid for, at least on paper, through taxes and other revenue streams. And the $3.5 trillion, or whatever the final number ends up as, would be spent over the course of a decade. Lastly, while the stimulus spending amounts to a short-term infusion of cash to get over a recession, the reconciliation bill is a long-term play to revamp the social contract.
If you think that’s hyperbole or fearmongering, consider how that right-wing fringe outlet The New York Times describes it: “From Cradle to Grave, Democrats Move to Expand Social Safety Net.” The subheading goes even further: “The $3.5 trillion social policy bill that lawmakers begin drafting this week would touch virtually every American, at every point in life, from conception to old age.”
When Chuck Todd referred to the $3.5 trillion as “human infrastructure” on Sunday, Manchin responded by calling it “social reforms.” Social reform can be a good thing. But is anyone in America even aware that we might be mere weeks away from such sweeping changes?
Democrats can certainly argue that there are substantive progressive goals here that may, in their view, warrant massive spending and a radical shift in social policy: free preschool, elder care, addressing climate change. But rather than trying to win these individual policy arguments in a series of robust public debates and votes, they are hoping to just ram through the whole shebang in one fell (party-line) swoop.
I mean, even kids recognize that Santa Claus appreciates restraint. When explaining the huge list of progressive policy items included in this gaudy monstrosity, liberal writer Bill Scher notes that “Not even FDR tried to wrap Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, the Banking Acts, the Securities Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and the Relief Appropriation Act into a single bill. Nor did LBJ try to bundle the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Economic Opportunity Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Food Stamp Act, the Urban Mass Transportation Act and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.”
This bill is basically the left’s wish list, with nothing crossed out and all of it lumped into one do-or-die spending behemoth.
Manchin is the natural voice of opposition within his party because he may be the only possible Democrat who could hold on to that Senate seat in West Virginia, which went for Trump by nearly 40 points last year. If Manchin wasn’t there then Mitch McConnell would still be running the Senate. Democrats have a shot of passing a reconciliation bill only because Manchin is there, and that means he can say things other Democrats can’t.
And, to Manchin’s point, what’s with the urgency? Aside from the expiration of the expanded child tax credit at the end of December and a couple of other items that could be addressed individually, I don’t see any reason to rush through something this big and complex. It’s true that Democrats have a self-imposed deadline coming up in a couple weeks, but that is based on political calculations.
“If I can’t explain it, I can’t vote for it,” Manchin has said about his opposition to the $3.5 trillion price tag.
Well, he can’t explain it. And neither can I.