I have a confession to make. As The Oppy was taking its summer vacation, I wasn’t really experiencing much of a vacation. You see, my wife and I bought a house. At long last, a place to display all of my bobblehead dolls without the love of my life having to actually see them! It’s the dream. But the interesting revelation is that we’re finding houses, be they literal or governmental, are full of $urpri$e$. It’s almost as if, to get things functioning normally rather than just slapping a band-aid on structural issues, you have to spend more money than you want to.
Allow me to repeat that. “Sometimes, to do things right, you have to spend more money than you want to.” Interesting, huh?
That brings me to West Virginia Senator/King of America Joe Manchin, who may or may not be a lump of coal in Democrats’ stockings as their disparate, wacky caucus tries to pass Joe Biden’s domestic agenda. Gone are the halcyon days of the Trump Era, when liberal D.C. journalists on Twitter could ironically declare “It’s infrastructure week!” to mock the White House’s lack of policy substance. Now the Democrats, holders of unified government control, actually have to do something.
That isn’t to say the caucus has done nothing. Shortly after Biden took office, Congress passed a massive Covid relief package that is likely to prove transformative over the long haul. But as important as that was, sitting on your hands for the last 3.8 years of your term isn’t a great idea, so POTUS has set out to push through two massive bills. One, a long overdue infrastructure bill set to cost roughly $1 trillion dollars, has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support and is broadly popular. After all, who doesn’t like new bridges and roads?
Of course for that bill to land on Biden’s desk, it also has to pass the House, and that’s where things get tricky. The House Democrats support the infrastructure bill, but the progressive wing is refusing to pass it without also pushing through the other chunk of Biden’s domestic plans, a tidy $3.5 trillion revamping of all things, well, of all things. Climate Change funding, incentivizing clean energy investment, expanding the social safety net dramatically, and expansive education funding are all part of the package. It would profoundly change the lives of millions and reestablish the baseline for what the government can, or should, provide for its citizens.
This package, predictably, has no Republican support and, if it passes, will pass on a party-line vote. To do that without enduring the threat of any GOP delays, Democrats need to pass the bill through an arduous process called Reconciliation, which is basically the federal government’s equivalent of slipping your late homework under the professor’s door and hoping nobody notices. And that means the House Democrats and the Senate Democrats have to deal.
So that brings us back to King Manchin. From the moment the Democrats took the Senate majority, it was no secret that all party-line legislation would run down country roads straight to his office. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema plays her own role in pulling the caucus back toward the center, but given his experience, tenure, and the value of a senator in red territory as Arizona turns more blue, Manchin is the key. His record is a greatest hits collection of moderate policy positions that place him to the right of even some Republican Senators. Fiscal prudence, second-amendment rights, and everyone’s favorite old chestnut, the filibuster are all Manchin classics that regularly seem to stop Democrats from getting things done.
That’s not to defame Manchin entirely. After all, without him we would be living through another two years of Darth McConnell Order 66ing all progressive legislation, or legislation of any type for that matter. And Manchin isn’t merely a convenient Democrat, either. More often than not he is on the right side of history, like when he proposed and publicly campaigned for significant gun restrictions in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, no small feat for a senator of a rural deep red state who previously enjoyed high marks from the NRA.
Of course, Manchin is also a man who ran for reelection by literally shooting a copy of a Cap and Trade bill with a hunting rifle. He contains multitudes.
Feel free to make up your own opinions, but whatever they are, if you support liberal policies, you’ll have to come to grips with the fact that for the time being they aren’t passing without him. That may be frustrating for you, but that’s how the system works. Despite all the anxiety-inducing coverage and your average progressive’s need for instant gratification (myself included), a bill is eventually likely to pass in some form even if it’s less than ideal. After all, the Affordable Care Act, also the result of months of internal negotiations, improved the lives of millions of Americans, but probably would have improved them more if Joe Lieberman hadn’t refused to support a public option.
Such may be the case here. Manchin has very publicly raised concerns about the bill’s price tag, which may make one wonder if he grasps that Americans would get things like universal Pre-K and important childcare tax credits for that money. But as liberals pull out their hair and jaw about how Papa Doc Manchin is standing in the way of progress, they must also remember that he’s a vital cog in the machine, without whom we might have no opportunity for any sort of progress at all. His positions make him seem like a stick in the mud, but in reality, he’s a stake in the ground.
The final bill may not have all the treats and goodies the Bernies and AOCs of the world crave, but as the saying goes, we cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good. Every step forward is progress nonetheless, and with a midterm election on the horizon, it behooves progressives to get what they can while they can, even if Czar Manchin gets veto power.
After all, a group of Republicans in Arizona spent heaps of money only to find out this week that a President they deem illegitimate actually won the presidential election by a wider margin. The message conservatives in Texas took from that was to do the same thing. Just imagine where progressives would be with those people in power. On the plus side, it’s not like the Republicans are threatening to hold the global economy hostage to score political points while this is going on.
You know, I’m going to take a break from this for a few minutes. The neighbor’s tree just fell in my backyard because the whole trunk had rotted out. Funny how things crumble when you don’t invest in them.
Photo credit: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/apr/11/jim-clyburn-joe-manchin-voting-rights-georgia-jim-crow