Washington surprises everyone on occasion. Wednesday was one example of such a day.
After more than a decade of delays, setbacks and intra-party wranglings, Senate Majority Lead Chuck Schumer made a deal for a $433 Billion health, climate, tax and other bills with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin’s pivotal support means Democrats may be able to ram the bill through Congress without any Republican votes.
Democrats celebrated the unexpected breakthrough. President Joe Biden asked Congress to immediately send the measure on his desk.
However, the Republican response was disingenuous and unusual. They didn’t just lambaste the legislation for including tax increases on large corporations. The Democrats were accused of misleading them.
According to an angry Sen. John Cornyn from Texas in a Senate speech Thursday afternoon, the problem was not the timing but the manner of which the announcement was made. The announcement came hours after the Senate passed a controversial bill that allocated billions of dollars to domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research. Cornyn and other Republicans claimed that Schumer had promised them that the reconciliation bill, as it’s known on Capitol Hill, was dead. This alleged promise is what persuaded Republicans to continue work on the semiconductor bill (also known as the CHIPS and Science Act).
“Senators Manchin and Schumer did not draft this 725-page bill in the four hours between the passage of the CHIPS Act and Senator Manchin’s press release,” Cornyn said. “They’ve been working on this the entire time when they told us it was off the table.”
Advocates say the CHIPS legislation will alleviate the supply chain crisis and increase America’s competitiveness with China. On Wednesday it passed the Senate 64 to 33. It also received the support of 17 Republicans. “How can we negotiate in good faith, compromise where necessary, and get things done together after the majority leader and the Senator from West Virginia pull a stunt like this?” Cornyn added. “To look you in the eye and tell you one thing and to do another is absolutely unforgivable.”
Schumer’s office flatly denied having ever made such an agreement. “It was McConnell who tied the two together, not us,” a Schumer aide tells TIME, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Angrily Republican Senators insist that this was incorrect.
“They sucked Republican votes up like a Hoover Deluxe and then got their votes [on CHIPS] and then, bam, announced this new tax increase,” said Sen. John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, on Fox & Friends on Thursday morning. “We look like a bunch of—well, I’m not going to say what we look like.”
But veterans of the halls of Congress—Republican and Democrat alike—argue the GOP line of attack is hard to stomach, because Republicans had no reason to think Democrats would give up on advancing their priorities while still in power.
“I don’t buy that,” Neil Chatterjee, a former top aide to McConnell, tells TIME. “There has always been a sense among the Republican leadership that, in a 50-50 Senate, the Democratic senators have leverage. And there’s always been a sense that Manchin would ultimately deal because it’s in his interest to do so. He loses his position as decisive vote if the House is flipped in November. This is his best opportunity to get something done.”
Manchin never claimed that reconciliation bills that his party so desperately wanted were dead. This was despite the fact that negotiations appeared to have collapsed on July 14. “Even two weeks ago, he was maintaining that he wanted more data on inflation and he wasn’t walking away,” notes Sarah Binder, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution. Manchin sought out former Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers to confirm that the compromise bill Schumer and he were secretly hammering out was not inflationary. Summers, a former president of Harvard University who worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, has been one of the Democrats’ fiercest critics on economic policy in recent months.
One Democratic operative who spent years in the Senate thinks that Republicans aren’t so angry about being duped as they are embarrassed about being bested.
“Me thinks they doth protest too much,” Jim Manley, a former chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, tells TIME. “There’s a few more twists and turns to go here, but the fact is they got beat fair and square.”
In fact, just after the Schumer/Manchin deal was made public, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Republican of California) sent an email to all Republican House caucus informing them to reject the measure. This memo was intended to protest the Democrats. With 24 Republicans voting in support of the CHIPS bill, nearly all Democrat votes for it on Thursday afternoon. It was not immediately clear how many Republicans voted against the bill because of McCarthy’s urging, rather than their genuine opposition to it. Biden is likely to sign the bill.
“To think they got misled somehow is as pathetic as they come,” Manley said. “They can’t possibly believe this. They are being dragged into taking a series of no votes that I think they’re going to regret.” He also noted how Democrats could attack Republicans who voted against the CHIPS bill as choosing to protecting Chinese interests. “The pro-CCP ads write themselves,” He said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
The Schumer-Manchin agreement is not likely to pass. All 50 senators that are a part of the Democratic caucus must support the Schumer-Manchin deal to pass the equally divided Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris will serve as tiebreaker. However, Sen. Kyrsten Silena (an Arizona Democrat) has not yet indicated whether or not she would support the package. She has opposed tax increases in Arizona’s bill before. “We don’t have comment because Kyrsten’s reviewing the text and will need to review what comes out of the parliamentarian process,” a spokesperson for the senator tells TIME. (Schumer submitted the bill to the Senate parliamentarian Wednesday night, hoping to clear the bill for consideration next week, but it’s not clear if the review will take longer.)
Both parties are currently preparing for the possibility that their reconciliation bill could give them an advantage over voters going into November. Sources claim that Republicans are planning to oppose Democrats using the tax hikes in the reconciliation bill, previously known as The Inflation Reduction Act. This is because they argue that the increases will only make matters worse during a period of high inflation.
“Democrats have already crushed American families with historic inflation,” McConnell tweeted Thursday. “Now they want to pile on giant tax hikes that will hammer workers and kill many thousands of American jobs. First they killed your family’s budget. Now they want to kill your job too.”
Democrats claim that the passage of these bills will establish a strong contrast with Republicans. Biden and his team have passed several popular bills since they took office. These include the infrastructure bill and an economic recovery package. They also signed the first major gun safety legislation in many decades last month. Their talking points will be enhanced by the CHIPS bill and a potentially historic federal investment in climate change mitigation.
A president must sign legislation into law before it is considered complete. And the Schumer-Manchin deal still has a long way to go before reaching Biden’s desk.
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