Well, AOC called it. She and the other progressives in the Democratic caucus insisted on linking House passage of the Senate-approved infrastructure bill – something Joe Manchin supported, and had already voted for – to concurrent Senate approval of the Build Back Better act, the social spending bill that contained, among other things, the massive climate change initiatives so dear to the young New York Congresswoman’s heart. Speaker Pelosi, backed by President Biden, decided to decouple the two, and take the win on infrastructure while it was still there to be had, insisting behind closed doors that Manchin would eventually come around. He won’t, replied AOC. Not if you give up our only leverage. For this, she was characterized as unreasonable, short-sighted, and, being female, shrill.
Among those on the sane right, like Tim Miller and Charlie Sykes over at the Bulwark, the feeling wasn’t so much that AOC was wrong as it was that the battle was lost already, and it was nuts to sacrifice infrastructure on the altar of a Build Back Better agenda that was never going to pass in the Senate anyway, which maybe was the sensible (if utterly dispiriting) way to look at it, but AOC stuck to her guns. Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer, by no means chiming in with the Never-Trumper realpolitik, kept assuring the progressives that Manchin would come around, especially since they were busy gutting what started life as a six-trillion dollar bill, then became a three-trillion dollar bill, until they’d further pared it down to 1.8 trillion (over ten years, that is, less than a quarter of what will be spent on defence in the same time frame), all to satisfy Manchin.
AOC wasn’t buying it. When the time came, she voted no on the decoupled infrastructure bill, and took all sorts of shit for it.
Today, Manchin, de facto Republican that he is, went on Fox News and killed Build Back Better. Just like AOC said he would.
Maybe he was always going to, regardless. Maybe Sykes, Miller et al were right, and the win on infrastructure was better than the only alternative, which was nothing at all, because any supposed leverage over Manchin was illusory. But it’s still a very bitter pill to swallow, and there’s no denying that Manchin, purporting to negotiate in good faith for month after month as the bill was whittled down to a sad little nubbin, played Democratic leadership, and his President, for abject chumps, in exactly the same way that the Republicans played the Dems on Obamacare, back in the day: I want to find common ground, but you gotta give me a concession. Good, now give me another. Another please. One more. O.K. good, now Just one more. No, on second thought, better give me another one. I’ll take that as well. Ooops, still not there, but if you’ll just give up on this other thing, that should do it. Oh, and also this thing too. Hmmmm….listen, you know what? Go fuck yourself. At no point would Joe ever articulate a bottom line. It was always thanks, still not good enough. Meanwhile, the clock runs out on the legislative session, and nothing happens.
Right out of Mitch McConnell’s handbook.
There are those who’ll counsel calm in the wake if this fiasco, while reminding us that the only reason Manchin ever got elected as a Democrat in deep red West Virginia is that he’s actually a Republican, and that having a Republican who’s willing to put a (D) after his name, thus granting the donkeys a razor-thin majority in the Senate, with all that entails, is actually a Godsend. But for Manchin, they’ll remind you, Mitch would still be majority leader, Republicans would run all the committees, and legislative successes like the American Rescue Plan, a massive spending bill that Manchin did support, would never have happened. Maybe the infrastructure bill would likewise have died, though it had significant Republican support, including from McConnell himself, but maybe. All true. Sure.
But Manchin is playing dirty pool here. Yes, he was always expressly reluctant when it came to Build Back Better, but he kept stringing everybody along, Lucy-with-the-football style, when obviously he never had any intention of letting anything like the ambitious social/taxation/climate bill pass the Senate. He’s doing the same thing now on voting rights, intimating, now and then, that he might be amenable to some sort of change to the filibuster rules to permit an effort to save American democracy, fostering hope that something might yet be done to resist GOP gerrymandering, voter suppression, and election subversion, maybe something along the lines of the bill Manchin himself proposed. Talk last week was that Joe was negotiating, and perhaps was now ready to come around on this issue of transcendent importance.
Yeah, well, I’m advising all y’all not to go betting the mortgage.
Yes, I know, of course the problem isn’t just Manchin and his frequent anti-social sidekick Kirsten Sinema. After all, these two wouldn’t have the extraordinary power to block anything at all if there weren’t also 50 obstructionist stooges on the GOP side of the aisle, dedicated to thwarting everything they can, not one decent soul among them; and there wouldn’t be an equal number of GOP Senators in the first place, but for the absurdity of an anti-majoritarian constitution that grants two Senate seats per State, regardless of population, or, for that matter, absent an aggrieved and irrational mass of White people who’ll reliably vote Republican no matter how opposed to their own true interests the jerks and clowns they elect can be guaranteed to behave.
Still, having been placed in this position of unprecedented power and influence by fluke, voter ignorance, and negligent design, Manchin has a choice, and he chooses to remain ensconced in his comfy Senate sinecure rather than do the right thing, and, supposing such costs him his seat, find another way to live comfortably off the millions he’s earned from his holdings in the very fossil fuel interests that Build Back Better would begin to curtail. His purported reasons for killing the bill, supposed concerns about inflation and deficits, are of course the purest bullshit. Economists have judged BBB to be anti-inflationary, and its costs are paid for by tax increases that displease his corporate donors as much as the bill’s environmental provisions upset his patrons in the fossil fuel industries. That’s what matters. That’s all that matters. Joe doesn’t give a flying fuck about the dirt-poor slobs in his dirt-poor West Virginia home. He’s just happy to be in a position to call the shots, which position he can’t maintain if his paymasters lose their use for him. He’s vain, he’s comfortable, and he’s corrupt.
So, he just slammed three torpedoes below his President’s waterline, because the way things go down there, the dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammers electorate isn’t going to react to the legislative gridlock by voting in enough Democrats to make Manchin irrelevant. No, they’ll get their revenge on the President who failed to deliver by voting in scads and scads of Republicans. Come the next mid-terms, there go the majorities in the House and Senate. And the one Dem sure to keep his seat will be smilin’ Joe, happy as a clam to be living on his yacht, and glad to be of service.
So it goes.