At this point it seems likely that “negotiations” between Democratic Congressional leaders and Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema over President Biden’s Build Back Better bill will drag on indefinitely. Or until progressives either give in to their demands, or Democrats lose Congress in the mid-term election, whichever comes first.
The problem is no one knows what Manchin/Sinema’s demands are, short of slashing the price tag on Build Back Better by about half.
Congressional Democrats, including progressives, have pretty much accepted defeat and are now tinkering with Biden’s plan—not to mention our planet’s future—over what to cut and what to eliminate entirely. Do we say to hell with climate change action and thus to hell with future generations? Or do we say goodbye to eye exams for seniors and nix mandatory paid family leave? How much can we undo the child tax credit Democrats wanted to make permanent? Basically everything is on the cutting block but new roads and bridges.
As things stand, Democrats are letting two old school southern conservative senators (who else would be holding up a voting rights bill?) hold Biden’s agenda hostage. But Climate Change, at least, should be non-negotiable. Climate Change, as we have heard said a billion times, is an existential crisis. You do not negotiate about an existential crisis.
Manchin, one of best friends the fossil fuel industry ever had, opposes part of Build Back Better that would slash greenhouse gases because—of course he does. In particular, he objects to the Clean Electricity Performance Program which would give money to utilities to help them shift to clean energy faster than they would otherwise.
And Democrats are poised to let him get away with it.
This despite the fact that Biden’s Build Back Better plan remains wildly popular with Manchin’s constituents.
Of course there is a simple way around allowing two conservative southern Democrats to hold the Democratic Party, democracy, and the future of the planet hostage.
Democrats could get tough with these two egotistical obstructionists. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could order Manchin/Sinema to either get on board with the principles of their party, with the desires of their constituents and the America people, or lose their committee assignments (Manchin is, not surprisingly, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee). Democratic leaders could vow to endorse their primary opponents. They could let Manchin/Sinema know in no uncertain terms that the Democratic National Committee will put all its resources into defeating them in the next primary. Either they get on board or they will effectively become persona non grata.
This is no time for subtly.
Of course this will not happen. Democrats, at least outside of Chicago ward politics, dislike playing hardball. Manchin has said that Schumer never pressures him. And in an evenly divided Senate, Democrats don’t want to alienate Manchin/Sinema. That, of course, is Manchin/Sinema’s trump card.
While no one knows what is going on in Sinema’s head, we do have a fairly good idea what drives Manchin. The senator is afraid of looking too “liberal” in his dark red state and risk losing his seat. So much so that he would prefer to thwart Biden’s entire agenda. A man of principle would say, I am going to do the right thing for the future of democracy, the future of America and the future of the planet, and if I lose my senate seat to some Trump Republican, so be it. At least I will have accomplished some good while in office, instead of serving as a useless roadblock. But Manchin evidently has no such principles, so he will hold onto his seat by any means necessary. And, of course, the MAGA crowd couldn’t be happier.