Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has now given a hard “no” to President Biden’s and the Democrats’ Build Back Better proposal. He announced his decision on Fox News Sunday.
“I’ve done everything humanly possible,” Manchin said on his negotiations with the President and Democratic leaders. However, he said his ongoing concerns about the cost of the legislation, the growing national debt, a surge in Covid-19 cases and the threat of additional inflation would not let him give any more ground in discussions.
“When you have these things coming at you the way they are right now,” Manchin said. “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation.”
At heart and in practice, Manchin has always been a dealmaker, someone who believes in the power of personal persuasion to bring all parties together to hammer out a compromise. But sometimes there simply is no deal.
Inevitably, the focus will be on the personalities involved in the discussions—was Manchin obstinate? Why is he a Democrat if he cannot get on board with a Democratic proposal? Why doesn’t he just go ahead and switch parties if he’s going to act like that?
But while most of the media attention focused on Manchin, there were left-leaning members of Congress who would only go so far. Cut too much from the Build Back Better plan and Senator Bernie Sanders becomes a “no” or the progressive caucus of the House throws in the towel.
What that suggests is that the bill itself was flawed. It was both too much and too little. It was an oversized ball of dough that could never be brought into shape. Stretch in one place and it recedes in another.
“I have always said, ‘If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.’ Despite my best efforts, I cannot explain the sweeping Build Back Better Act in West Virginia and I cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation,” Manchin said in a statement released by his office.
It is a fair point because the bill was so many things. The public and political debates often picked out one part of the bill, ignoring everything else. One group is arguing about the pros and cons an expanded child tax credit while another is weighing the merits of one of any number of climate provisions.
Had Manchin somehow become a “yes,” it would have divided the country even further. BBB would have passed with only Democratic votes, meaning the most significant expansion of government, perhaps in the history of the country, would be a partisan issue from this point forward.
The benefit of the months of debate is that some of these issues have now come to the forefront. There may be bi-partisan support for universal and free preschool or additional hearing and eye care benefits for seniors. Break those down into individual bills, debate them and, if there is enough support, pass them.
Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, restructure the deal. I strongly suspect Manchin still wants one.