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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced earlier this weekend that he will not support Biden’s Reconciliation bill. since Biden’s massive spending bill needed the support of the entire Democratic caucus in the evenly divided Senate, Manchin’s rejection essentially kills Biden’s spending package.
The announcement puts an inglorious end to Biden’s first year as president, with his main domestic policy item being defeated after a long intraparty fight. Manchin, who has displayed an impressive amount of political influence in 2021, said he cannot support the bill because the legislation would “dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face.”
Manchin also criticized the way the Democratic leadership has handled the legislation, saying the “the American people deserve transparency on the true cost of the Build Back Better Act. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office determined the cost is upwards of $4.5 trillion which is more than double what the bill’s ardent supporters have claimed. They continue to camouflage the real cost of the intent behind this bill.”
Democrats and progressives have admonished their fellow party member for his decision. Former presidential candidate and progressive favorite Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) said that Manchin has “a lot of explaining to do” to his constituents in West Virginia for his opposition to the bill. Rep. AOC (D-NY) also criticized Manchin in an interview saying “the idea that Joe Manchin says he can’t explain this back home to his people is a farce”
The White House has also criticized the West Virginian for his decision, saying that Manchin’s comments “are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with the White House Staff, and with his own public utterances.”
Some progressives have even said that the defeat of the reconciliation bill is reason enough to radically alter the Senate, something AOC said in an interview that “we really need to do is crack down on the Senate which operates like an old boys’ club (…) we actually need to institute some institutional discipline.”
Joe Manchin is doing his job, and Democrats hate him for it
Democrats and Progressives might be fuming at Manchin over his refusal to vote for the expansive Build Back Better plan. The WH has said that Manchin reneged his promises; Sen. Sanders said he is doing a disservice to the people of West Virginia, and firebrand progressive AOC is using this political defeat as a tool to push her proposals to destroy the Senate. Their rage over this political fiasco is understandable, but they should be pointing the fingers to themselves, not to the man who has managed to keep a Senate seat in staunchly conservative West Virginia.
First, despite whatever Psaki said, Manchin has not reneged in his promise or made a drastic 180-degree change in policy. The senator made it very clear that he was extremely hesitant on the expansive trillion-dollar spending bill being pushed by Democrats, he published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal back in September saying why he was not supportive of the bill.
Manchin’s statement announcing his vote against the bill and his op-ed are almost carbon copies of themselves, he says he is concerned about inflation, he argued back then that the size of the bill could have a very grave impact on the national debt, and even said Congress should stop any new spending until we knew if inflation was transitory or not (spoiler alert: it was not). Manchin has been crystal clear for months, if the Biden WH is surprised, that’s on them, not Manchin.
Additionally, it is astonishing to see politicians like Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who have only managed to win general elections in deep Blue states to lecture Mr. Manchin on how he should represent the people of West Virginia, a state that Donald Trump won by almost 40% in 2020. How is it politically wise to support a policy that is so deeply associated with Biden when you are representing a state that deeply dislikes the President?
Joe Manchin has managed to survive as the only statewide Democrat public official in one of the most conservative states in the nation, he has defeated three Republicans for the Senate seat during these times of hyperpolarization. If there is somebody who knows the politics of West Virginia that is Mr. Joe Manchin, not politicians who have never actually won a competitive general election.
He has managed this astonishing political achievement by doing his job, which is to represent West Virginians, not the party elite who manages to get less than 30% of the vote in the state.
Furthermore, despite all the criticism by Democrats, it is very important for them to understand that if it were not for Manchin, they would not have their razor-thin majority in Congress. A Joe Manchin that is defeated will not be substituted by a firebrand progressive, it will be replaced by a very conservative Republican.
The failure of Biden is his own fault, not Manchin’s
Biden’s domestic policy failed miserably, despite (not because of) Manchin’s best attempts to make it work. When Biden assumed office, he had the slimmest of Congressional margins in recent history, an eight-seat majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate. A rational decision-maker would understand this very tight margin and try to pass a bill that is perhaps smaller than what Democrats wanted but that could pass both houses.
Instead, Mr. Biden decided to believe he was the new FDR and pushed the most ambitious agenda since the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. Of course, Johnson passed much of his legislation with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, while Biden had an effective one-seat margin in the upper chamber. In order for this to succeed, Manchin would have to commit political suicide, not a very smart strategy.
Manchin realized this and did his best to give Biden some policy successes. He toed the party line and voted for the COVID relief package earlier this year, he then promised and delivered a bipartisan infrastructure bill that got the support of almost 20 GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Had Biden only focused on a narrow bill targeting Infrastructure, he could have made a victory lap in his first year as President, but he tried to be the new FDR (without his charisma or congressional majority) and failed. That miscalculation is on Biden, not Manchin.
Democrats might blame Manchin for the failures of Biden, but he actually did the best he could to salvage the Biden agenda within his political constraints. In fact, the only policy achievement of the Biden administration (and a remarkable one at that) came thanks to Mr. Manchin, not Bernie or AOC.
A rational Democratic party would learn from Manchin and try to replicate his success in rural states across the country. However, it appears Democrats have decided to cast all the blame on their most important Senator in the hopes of bullying him to an agreement. It did not work in 2021, and it will not work in 2022.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.