The President Appeases Manchin, Sinema with a Scaled-Down Spending Package
Whatever one thinks of the latest version of Joe Biden’s proposed Build Back Better spending package, it should be clear that simply accepting hurried-up rewrite couldn’t reflect the most thoughtful, measured approach to governing.
Of course, it’s not meant to do so, and even if passed, will require legislative attention.
Instead, it’s meant to capture days, weeks, and months of private and public posturing all in the elongated effort to capture the last of the Democratic-only votes in the Senate to get a bill passed through the arcane procedures and strident politics of that body.
Even so, it’s not clear that Biden has the needed votes, but perhaps close enough to get House approval for the Senate-passed compromise on physical infrastructure projects.
One would think the Biden administration would have learned how to count votes, and could have conducted this entire spending negotiation before floating its spending bills that have served as public relations piñata for months now.
Constant self-negotiation among Democrats alone to hit an acceptable compromise across ideological lines is never easy to watch; rewriting a complex tax code in a couple of days never strikes one as a successful strategy.
However it again emerges, the bill will be huge, ungainly, and only restart all the same discussions as it moves from bill to eventual law and implementation. Maybe that always is so with big, controversial pieces of legislation in Washington, but this cycle has been especially rough to swallow because of the drip-by-drip rejection by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) of various “progressive” approaches to making life a little easier, a little fairer for a lot more people.
And, because the result will put a couple of trillion public dollars into infrastructure and services over the next ten years, it is bound to have a lot of generally popular effects for American families and the economy we all share. It will also launch a billion Republican ads warning and blaming Biden and Democrats for perceived socialism.
Naturally, there are lessons aplenty in all this, many of which will play out in election cycles next year and beyond.
Lessons in the Senate should include a renewed look at the filibuster rules that essentially forced consideration of the myriad parts of the Biden agenda into a single, blockbuster bill or two simply for the irrational rule that governs how many “budget reconciliation” packages can move through outside of “regular order.”
That rule and its interpretations alone forced showdowns on multiple fronts in the bill that had little business finding themselves in the same legislation – including approaches to taxes, a renewed look at incented energy sources for power plants and prescription drug pricing, among others. In the split Senate, that rule interpretation, in turn, allowed Manchin or Sinema way too much say.
As Manchin himself said, he is finding himself out of sync with 48 Democratic colleagues, which ought to prompt him to reconsider whether he is always on the correct side of obstinance. We can only hope that he and Sinema have learned that they are not the center of the universe, that they can best preach “compromise” by showing some.
In any interpretation of declaring a majority, even by one vote, it should mean that a simple majority should be allowed to prevail, unlike the gridlock we see from Republican withdrawal from governing at all. Quite apart from the spending bill opposition, we see a single Ted Cruz (R-Texas) being able to hold up State Department appointees, or the Republican bloc being blind to moves by state Republican legislatures to limit voting in the name of voter integrity.
One would think the Biden administration would have learned how to count votes, and could have conducted this entire spending negotiation before floating its spending bills that have served as public relations piñata for months now. As the group that wanted to restore a sense of competence as well as confidence, Team Biden needs to show it can get bills passed – the reason, in the end, for the hurried offense over a watered-down proposal less than half its original weight.
Because we can’t stop ourselves from explaining all in terms of personality politics, Biden should have learned that he’s better off persuading than he is in mandating – whether for vaccines or big public spending. Biden comes across as most credible – as well as being a basically caring individual—when he is specific and realistic, and when he depends on facts that build consensus.
Most Americans have likely tuned out entirely from the spending debate, as we are overwhelmed by current realities from the pandemic and economic slowdown. The hot issues of the day include the continuing effects and fatigue from dealing with covid, shortages and rising prices from supply chain issues, and the deepening anger, particularly from the political Right, about being told what to do.
Biden missed the boat by not talking about the costs of the next ten years without the spending. Commitments already are being made for increases in defense spending in the same period without much debate.
It was a Biden promise that his team could handle several things at once that boosted public confidence. That supportive political air around Biden has deflated around him derives entirely by seeing the opposite – that the singular attention on getting support for this bill from Machin and Sinema have sucked all the thoughtfulness out of the rooms where policies were made about the contentiously hastened Afghan pullout, over the growth of domestic violence from the Right, over lingering pandemic and building vaccine resistance, and the insistence of prices to keep rising while employers complain about hiring, but don’t increase wages or address issues of workplace dignity.
Let’s hope that this rewrite can get adopted and that we can learn from its messy route to passage.