Joe Manchin Has Double-Crossed Democrats Yet Again

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The contempt was sincere when Sen. Bernie Sanders took the airwaves last weekend to voice a common frustration in the Senate’s Kennedy Caucus Room: Sen. Joe Manchin was an unreliable negotiator who had double-crossed Democrats once again.

“The problem was that we continue to talk to Manchin like he was serious. He was not,” he told ABC’s This Week. This was equivalent to letting loose an airhorn in a Senate known for its good humor.

There’s one problem with this rage. Manchin was a proud flies in the legislative ointment. A unrepentant critic to party orthodoxy, Manchin doesn’t seem concerned about his relations at the Capitol. And that’s why he will probably be the last statewide elected Democrat to represent West Virginia for a long time: he values his constituents’ contempt of Washington far more than he fears his colleagues’ contempt of him. And when it comes to President Joe Biden’s frustrations with Manchin’s singular and capricious veto-proof whimsy, Manchin truly cannot be bothered. Voters in West Virginia prize Manchin’s perceived indifference to party politics, and Manchin likes to serve them a skillet of stick-it-to-the-man every chance he gets.

Manchin had committed in private last year to supporting the parts of the second iteration of Biden’s Build Back Better plan with plenty of strings attached. Manchin didn’t like parts of the first one, but promised to like the second one—that is until the sequel also ran afoul of his need to scuttle huge swaths of Democrats’ agenda, such as a tax hike on the wealthy. Manchin changed his mind and attempted to explain what he was willing to accept. Democrats accepted. And then, again, the proposal ran aground of the SS Manchin’s norms because, in his mind, more government spending would only hasten inflation.

Welcoming to the 2022 government, Prime Minister Manchin leading it. (Credit where it’s due to The New Republic(For the analogy. The entire country’s agenda is set by the one Senator who stands in the breach. It is 50-50 split in the Senate. A 60 vote threshold is required for matters not related to the budget. However, if the Senate rule-maker gives the lawmakers a pass, Democrats can play with a 51-vote majority on anything deemed budget-adjacent, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. All that means that if every member of the Senate’s Democratic caucus sticks together to tuck novel ideas into the budget, they can actually get stuff done.

Democrats know they’re in a precarious position. Their governing majority, which is the political equivalent to a faberge egg, is just as fragile as it gets. Any attempt to knock this souffle out of its place is met with a bang. And a dozen or so midterm races from Washington state to New Hampshire threaten those egg whites’ stability as much as any jackhammer on the street.

Or, to put it another way, Manchin holds the explosive to the Democratic majority’s paws and at worst is indifferent to its fate. (In his latest thwarting of the White House’s agenda, Manchin could ultimately damage U.S. credibility by derailing a global minimum tax the Biden administration negotiated with more than 100 countries.)

Manchin insists that he can’t hurt his constituents. That means catering to his state’s vaunted—but vanishing—coal industry. His coal-country neighbor are toxic if he attempts to promote green jobs. It’s a branding exercise that may, perhaps, keep him holding on as West Virginia’s last Democratic Senator. Trump beat Manchin by three points to win West Virginia in 2020. He won the state by 39 percent. Manchin is a valuable member of his party and Democratic leaders make sure he has enough space in order to remain there as long as possible.

However, there are bounds. Especially when Democrats realise that their coast to-coast dreams depend on Red State lawmakers with an effective vote. Democrats wanted to protect their narrow majority of Covid-19-defeated Democrats. They had planned to do this by defending an agenda that rebuilt bridges, roads, tunnels, created a social safety net and lower drug prices. At best, their to-do list is half done, and Democrats now are saying they’ll take a mini-version of the to-do list just to show some progress and boost Biden’s abysmal polling.

Manchin now says he may support a two-year provision to cap prescription drug prices but wants to wait until the fall for the big-ticket items left in the queue, meaning they’ll slip past Election Day and likely into a lame-duck Congress, when it will be too late for these measures to energize voters in tight races around the country. It’s not hard to imagine why so many of Manchin’s colleagues in tough re-election fights hold him in such contempt.

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