A New Can of Worms

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faced criticism for potentially assisting Democrats in eliminating the filibuster. His agreement with Democrat Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to ultimately allow Democrats to increase the debt ceiling on a simple majority vote was the subject of criticism due to fears of setting a new precedent. “It’s a terrible idea. Terrible. It would circumvent the filibuster. This is nuking the filibuster,” Sen. Mike Lee told NBC News.

Sen. Lee’s statement is incorrect in terms of the legislative process used. A widespread false equivocation has generated a new narrative. A crucial element is left out of the discussion on the debt ceiling agreement. For Democrats to have proceeded to a one-time simple majority vote, which would allow the increase of the debt ceiling by a specific number, a minimum of 10 Republican votes were ultimately necessary. A filibuster-proof majority voting in favor was still required. Without reaching the 60-vote threshold, there would be no means of advancing to the simple majority vote. This aspect alone separates this procedural tactic from outright eliminating or creating a carve-out for the filibuster. Indeed, it was part of an overall convoluted method to increase the debt ceiling, but the filibuster itself remained untouched. Sen. Lee could have expressed a valid point of concern about how this course of action could eventually reshape precedent.

The agreement on the debt ceiling has allowed Democrats to employ a deceptive messaging campaign. Democrats have begun utilizing this to legitimize their desire to eliminate outright, reform, or create an issue-based carve out of the filibuster. If it can apply to raising the debt ceiling, why not voting rights? The answer is simple but unhelpful to the cause. Democrats cannot get 10 Republicans to support a simple majority vote on voting rights legislation. But of course, reality does not matter when pursuing an agenda. The false equivocation being propagated is apparent to anyone not willfully blinded by partisan rhetoric.

You will see Democrat Senators such as Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia attempt to equate the two.

The obvious fallacy of this statement is that Democrats did not raise the debt ceiling alone. Warnock conveniently leaves that very relevant piece of the puzzle out. Democrats would not have been about to raise the debt ceiling without the 14 Republicans who allowed the majority only vote to proceed. There would certainly not be 14 Republicans voting in favor to move to a simple majority vote on the Freedom to Vote Act or John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

With Build Back Better on the sidelines for now due to an array of disagreements with Sen. Manchin of West Virginia and other aspects still being worked out. Democrats have brought voting rights legislation to the forefront. Prioritizing an attempt to address what many advocates have said should have been their top priority from the start. Persuading their two primary Democrat holdouts, Sen. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to support reforming or eliminating the filibuster has not succeeded. Sen. Sinema on Wednesday released a statement reaffirming her support for the 60-vote threshold. Meanwhile, Sen. Manchin has said he would like any changes to be bipartisan. “All of my discussions have been with bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats. The rules change should be done to be where we all have input in this rules change because we’re going to have to live with it,” Manchin said. Sen. Manchin has met with Republicans to discuss smaller bipartisan measures which would be more akin to improving the overall functionality of the Senate.

Resolving the debt ceiling dilemma may have contributed to a recent change of heart by some Democrats. “We’ve been here almost a year, and we’ve seen enough: It’s time to change the filibuster to protect voting rights,” Democrat Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado said in a statement. Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire also recently announced on the Senate floor her support for eliminating the filibuster in the name of passing voting rights legislation.

It certainly appears the recent debt ceiling resolution has at least accelerated these recent turn of events. Though it would be safe to assume even if the debt ceiling increase was smooth sailing, Democrats would have eventually gone down this same road. Undeniably it is now the Democrat calling card and a vehicle for Democrats to drive home their agenda.

Fore and foremost, this is not being done in the name of creating a more functional Democratic Senate. The task at hand for Democrats is to devise a legislative approach easing their ability to pass an agenda item, if not multiple agenda items. Call me cynical, but there would be no mention of voting rights legislation if Democrats held the advantage in gerrymandering or did not see an advantageous method of increasing their support. Never forget there is always an ulterior motive in every piece of legislation without exception.

Image Credit: “December 10 march for voting rights” by Michael Fleshman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Civility is Gone

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia appeared frustrated; some argue he was just tired during Sen. Chuck Schumer’s lambasting of Republicans on the Senate floor Thursday. Schumer’s comments followed a successful vote to temporarily increase the federal government’s $28.4 trillion debt limit. While only a temporary solution, it staved off a potential default. It gave lawmakers until early December to come up with a more long-term solution.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate at this time, and we had a talk about that,” Manchin told reporters as he was leaving the capital. “Civility is gone,” acknowledging both sides have been guilty.

Civility has long been going out of style, and it is nearing the brink of extinction. Manchin suggests he is going to try to bring it back. Manchin finds himself stranded on a deserted island. His stated devotion to compromise and bipartisanship has been a consistent theme but alienates the majority of his Democrat colleagues. No other Democrat, including Sinema, who has angered Democrats in her own right, is as isolated as Manchin. He is an outlier in a party that has adopted a completely different platform for better or worse.

The days of either party embracing a big tent mentality are long gone. There is no big tent in the Democrat or Republican Party. They both may operate under the guise of such a notion, even that is debatable, but it is a farce. Fringe is in. Not only in terms of ideology but approach.

People talk today as if Democrats and Republicans should not be friendly or interact civilly. Our politics has devolved beyond reason. Political party affiliations and ideological differences are akin to aligning with a U.S. adversary amid a war. How frightening is that? I want to think that this is just the most vocal opposition representing a fraction of overall voters. There is anger when a politician even engages in social events with another of a different party. How is this reasonable in a supposed civilized society?

Manchin receives both criticism and encouragement for his approach. Some suggest whether, in support or disgust, he should switch his party affiliation. That would be a nightmare scenario for Democrats as they would lose their Senate majority. Mitch McConnell, the self-proclaimed grim reaper of Democrat legislation, would reassume the role of Senate Majority Leader. For Republicans, it would give them the ability to put a halt to President Biden’s agenda. It would also negatively impact Democrat’s ability to confirm a Biden nominee to the Supreme Court, should a vacancy open up. While Manchin would receive a warm welcome on that front, it would not take long for him to be termed in a derogatory fashion a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Ask Republican Senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski how that works. The second Manchin speaks out against a proposal or policy; many Republicans will be up in arms with furious condemnation. No better, maybe even worse, than how progressives approach Manchin and Sinema presently. Also, Manchin has more influence over policy, providing a crucial vote as a Democrat rather than a Republican. As a Republican, he would have no means of inspiring constructive dialogue. The only objective among Republicans would be to block the legislative agenda of Democrats. Manchin has also stated in a CSPAN Newsmakers interview in 2019 that he could not become a Republican because of two key issues, taxes and healthcare.

Unless Republicans embrace some form of moderation and a willingness to listen to and consider dissenting voices, you will not see Manchin becoming an independent and caucusing with Republicans. Trading the internal animosity of his current party for the inevitable future animosity of the other party is not a worthwhile trade-off. One potential incentive is it would certainly increase his chances of reelection in 2024.

I believe the only way Manchin would consider such a drastic move is if Democrats were idiotic enough to strip Manchin of his chairmanship and attempt to punish him unless he goes along at gunpoint. I do not believe Democrats would be that foolish and petty.

McConnell has received angst from his party for bending on his demand that Democrats utilize reconciliation to lift the debt ceiling. A move partly to alleviate the pressure on Manchin and Sinema to support a filibuster carve out for the debt ceiling. Fearing it would eventually result in the filibuster being reformed or eliminated by Democrats. My question is, why start down this contentious and potentially dangerous path? The backlash and potential to backfire were evident before even starting. Increase the debt ceiling without dramatics and eliminate an unnecessary headache. Instead, McConnell now has egg on his face from both directions. It should never have been allowed to become a game of who will blink first.

Manchin is correct; there will not be a default in the end. There will be an agreement of some sort in the future. It is far too important and not a simple policy debate. There is no question this country has a severe spending problem, though it is rather convenient to shine a light on it when in opposition but dismiss fiscal restraint when in power. Holding the debt ceiling hostage is no way to handle it. It is a sad state of affairs when addressing the full faith and credit of the United States government cannot be done in a civilized matter.

Image Credit: “Senator Joe Manchin (WV)” by Third Way is licensed underCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Complicit Uniformity

What happened to the party of individualism and freedom? Freedom of expression is no longer acceptable if it does not fall precisely into said parameters. Is former President Donald Trump now this untouchable figure who, if you dare go against, you will be subject to condemnation? Do people with differing points of view need to be relegated to some derogatory status? Is worshiping at the altar of Trump now the future of conservatism? Is he the new Ronald Reagan? If I had to guess the answer to all those questions, the evidence points to overwhelmingly yes. 

Ronald Reagan has long been a role model to not only conservatives but Republicans in general. The vast majority of the party respected him, and the country did to some degree. Of course, like any politician, Reagan had his detractors. But consider this. Reagan in 1984 won 49 of 50 states. With an electoral college count of 525-13. The likelihood is we will never see that kind of landslide victory again. Nevertheless, Reagan certainly earned the respect of a large portion of the country and earned his high regard among Republicans today. 

Compare that to Donald Trump. If you were neutral on or uncertain about Trump before his 2016 presidential election victory, odds are you detested him after his first term. He did nothing to convince or at least earn some degree of respect from his detractors. Trump’s insecurities, erratic behaviors, and dumbfounding statements underscore why he became a one-term president and has an ever-growing number of Republican detractors. President Biden did not win on the policy details of his platform. Trump committed political suicide. 

Conservatives need to accept that a Trump-like figure, or any conservative for that matter, will not win in states like Maryland and Massachusetts. Both presently have Republican governors because they are moderates. Republican moderates who refuse to fall in line are, in a derogative sense, cast as liberals. Unfortunately, moderate has become a dirty word for both Democrats and Republicans. Purity tests are not a winning strategy in a diverse country with different beliefs and ideals. A conservative Republican will not win in deep-blue Maryland. Just like a progressive Democrat will not succeed in deep-red West Virginia.

In Wyoming, challenging Rep. Liz Cheney in a Republican primary is feasible. Wyoming is a very red state where Trump performed exceptionally well in 2020. So the likelihood of a Trump-endorsed candidate winning a Republican primary against Cheney is in the likely realm of possibilities. Wyoming is not America, though. One size never fits all. It is no coincidence that Democrats attempt to paint all Republicans as Trump acolytes because it has successfully become a negative connotation. In Virginia’s governor race, Glenn Youngkin is trying to walk a fine line of not alienating Trump’s loyal supporters, Trump has endorsed Youngkin, and at the same time not alienating Republicans and independents who do not care for Trump.

Republicans need to shed this identity of being solely the party of Trump. If it is a faction within the party, for better or worse, so be it. People have the right to support who they wish, but one man this divisive cannot have such a firm grasp on the direction of the Republican Party and expect to win elections. It does not only apply to elected officials who pander but voters. The key to politics is winning elections. Electoral victories require flexibility in terms of appealing to a specific voter base.

Ultimately, I do not believe Trump’s approach will lead to much electoral success outside of conservative-safe districts and certainly not the presidency. Complicating the matter is a refusal by too many Republicans to acknowledge Trump’s defeat in 2020. Not only is it detrimental but inexcusable. Trump may as well be the ringmaster at a three-ring circus with suggestions of seeking his third term.

The events of January 6th only exacerbated an already difficult situation. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both Republicans, were appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a new select committee on the violent January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Another burden weighing down on Trump’s ability to effectively lead Republicans. Even if it was nothing more than his rhetoric roiling up a passionate crowd. Trump cannot withhold accepting some degree of responsibility.

Trump has strong support among his base but divides other Republicans and alienates independents to an unacceptable extent. There are Republicans who voted Democrat in the 2020 presidential election because they were so disgusted with Trump. John Kasich admitted in advance that he would vote for Joe Biden. One Republican wrote in a dead former president. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan voted for Ronald Reagan. Former President George W. Bush wrote in Condoleezza Rice.

I cannot for the life of me understand why Republicans would hold the legacy of Trump’s presidency on a pedestal.

Image Credit: “Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Democracy of Convenience

All of a sudden, a demand for majoritarian democracy is in full throttle. The legislative filibuster has conveniently become the boogie man for most Democrats. They reference Jim Crow and the legislative filibuster’s history of obstructing civil rights legislation as their justification. If that is where the moral objection lies, why is it selectively and opportunistically called for by Democrats? Where were these calls by Democrats during the Trump administration? Was it not a Jim Crow relic in 2017? Were Republicans and Democrats alike racists for not abolishing it then?

If Democrats did not control the Senate, there would not be a single suggestion of abolishing or even reforming the filibuster. The desire to do so is now solely based on possessing a technical majority in a 50-50 Senate where Vice President Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote. Ideally, enabling Democrats to push aside Republicans and focus deliberation and debate exclusively among Democrats. 

letter to Senate leadership in 2017 requested then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to preserve the 60-vote legislative threshold for legislation, also known as the legislative filibuster. U.S. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Chris Coons of Delaware lead the charge on the effort. The letter was endorsed by 61 Senators including prominent advocates of abolishing the filibuster presently, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, to name a few. So what could have possibly changed?

In 2013 Harry Reid launched the opening salvo in the war against the filibuster to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for confirming federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments. Advancing to confirmation would now only require a simple majority vote. Supreme Court nominations were unaffected. That was until McConnell decided to fight fire with fire and eliminate the 60-vote threshold for confirming Supreme Court nominations.  

McConnell has been far from innocent in his contributions to chipping away at the filibuster, but it is worth noting his opposition to eliminating the legislative filibuster in 2017. Despite Then-President Trump’s persistent calls to do so, McConnell ultimately refused.

Trump frequently attacks McConnell’s intelligence during various interviews for upholding the legislative filibuster, but Trump’s hypocrisy looms large on his credibility.

Trump’s opportunistic disdain for the filibuster is a common bond shared with most Democrats. So when will Donald Trump eventually host his abolish the filibuster rally? I am sure all his loyal supporters will be on board when it serves their immediate interests. In June, Trump praised Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia for his opposition to eliminating the filibuster as “doing the right thing” in an interview with Fox Business. However, maintaining consistency is unnecessary as politics has long ceased to be one of authenticity. Opportunity supersedes principle and diminishes sincerity.

Only if there was an ounce of sincerity behind advocating abolishing the filibuster, it is no coincidence that it is only a relevant issue when convenient. It is not a genuinely held belief that the objective is to create a more democratic governing process—nothing more than a strategic maneuver to avoid political roadblocks to accomplish a partisan agenda. The at the moment, Armageddon, if we do not act immediately routine, is transparent to anyone willing to open their eyes. It is understandable to be frustrated by political obstruction and posturing while attempting to accomplish a promised agenda, but the lack of consistency is nothing short of hypocrisy. Political expediency is never a justification for altering Senate protocol.

Assuming the legislative filibuster is not abolished beforehand, if Democrats lose control of the Senate following the 2022 midterm elections, all this talk about abolishing the filibuster disappears. Its ties to obstruction and Jim Crow will be a distant memory. While Schumer has not blatantly endorsed abolishing the filibuster, he has stated nothing is off the table. Abolishing the filibuster will not only be off the table in 2023 but hidden in the attic.

Image Credit: “US Capitol” by keithreifsnyder is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Our Mission

Today’s blind allegiance to a political figure, ideology, or party inspired the foundation of The Daily Centrist. Debate and compromise be damned; we have all the answers! When in reality, no one figure, ideology, or party can solve America’s issues.

The Daily Centrist will provide an editorial-based outlet for critical analysis, commentary, and discussion from a political centrist perspective. We will explore all of the challenges that encompass our political landscape. Our endeavor is concentrated on civil discourse without discounting accountability. Less focus on partisan devotion and more on sensible solutions. We exist in an atmosphere so contentious that diversity of ideas is now blasphemy. Encouraging civility in our discourse should not be an eye-rolling concept. The Daily Centrist aims not to be political or policy advocates but sensibility advocates.

What is a centrist or centrism? The principle of avoiding either end of the political spectrum and ideological absolutes. A key aspect is to dispose of an all-or-nothing mentality and be pragmatic. Start by expressing a willingness to accept undesirable aspects of legislative proposals in exchange for the support of others. America is a centrist country supporting different ideals from different shades of the political spectrum. Aiming to garner genuine compromise should be encouraged. All proposals require evaluation and scrutiny to reach a successful outcome. Reasoned in reality and applicability is the route to positive change.

All Democrats are Marxists. All Republicans are insurrectionists. Sound familiar? It is the type of rhetoric that is growing in prevalence. The outlandish views expressed by a minority begin to encompass the perception of an entire party. Not all registered Democrats and Republicans share the opinions of those on either end of the political spectrum. 

Does ideological loyalty demand whatever our opposition proposes we shall oppose? Do not dare mention that sensible ideas originate throughout the political spectrum. Today’s partisan divide will object. This line of thinking has contributed to the heavily partisan and divisive rhetoric we see in our politics. Political polarization has reached dangerous highs. In today’s society, friendships and relationships are broken due to political differences. Unflattering labels are given to anyone who dares voice opposition to an opinion.

Genuine congressional deliberation is boarding on extinction. Meet our demands; otherwise, we will disengage or, if applicable, pursue a procedural shortcut. Abandoning discussions altogether until a partisan path forward presents itself is not only counterproductive but regrettable. 

Intraparty differences have taken center stage over the years. Not seeing eye to eye with party leadership should not be an offense. Being a member does not obligate one to commit to every agenda item or proposal endorsed by their party. Threats should never be utilized as a weapon to force conformity. Diverse views within a political party should be celebrated and embraced. Derogatory nicknames like Republican in name only (RINO) or Democrat in name only (DINO) are unnecessary.

In the end, without a middle ground, there will be no ground. A continuing back and forth hashing out the same issues yearly because the sole focus is on implementing a partisan agenda. Does that mean to come to the table with a blank slate? Of course not. Come forward with proposals but be ready to embrace alterations and alternatives. There is no acceptable reason why politicians cannot come to a compromise on the issues. There has to be a degree of willing compromise for a legislature to function correctly. It is a bipartisan problem in need of a bipartisan solution.

The Daily Centrist is not out to claim the mantle of superiority. Instead, we intend to contribute to a constructive dialogue.

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Reconciling Reality

Overpromising and underdelivering is a cornerstone of American politics. Campaign on sky-high aspirations followed by disappointment on unmet expectations. Sen. Chuck Schumer promised “bold change” in the wake of Democrats successfully taking control of the Senate and maintaining a slim majority in the House following the 2020 elections.

“Bold change” was an eye-rolling premise to anyone willing to accept the realities of a 50-50 senate. Knowing full-well Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was unwilling to eliminate the filibuster to allow Democrats to implement their agenda at will. In November 2020, Manchin appeared on Special Report with Bret Baier and clarified where he stands.

“I will not vote to pack the courts. I will not vote to end the filibuster… I don’t know of any Democrats in the caucus that are for defunding the police… We can’t even pay for Medicare for some.”

-Joe Manchin

As difficult as it would be to misunderstand Manchin’s statement ignoring it would not be. Schumer was well aware of his position before the two U.S. Senate runoff elections in the state of Georgia. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were successful in their respective Senate races. Democrats held a technical majority heading into 2021. With the Senate deadlocked at 50-50, Vice President Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote if necessary, giving Democrats control of the chamber by the narrowest margin possible. Despite that, Schumer pressed forward on what would be the beginning of a difficult road ahead.

Democrats are attempting to generate a positive messaging campaign focusing on their 2021 accomplishments. But, unfortunately, while there are accomplishments, they do not meet their pie in the sky aspirations and have left many disappointed.

The first order of business was the American Rescue Plan which foreshadowed how burdensome accomplishing agenda items would be. Passing it involved down to the wire compromise with Manchin. What was once a $400-a-week unemployment payment was reduced to $300 at the instance of Manchin. In addition, up to $10,200 in taxes would be forgiven on unemployment benefits received through 2020 as part of their agreement. Manchin was prepared to vote in favor of an amendment by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, which forced Democrats into last-minute negotiations with Manchin. Democrats agreed to lower the income cap that determines eligibility for stimulus payments. $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for single parents, and $160,000 for households became the agreed-to thresholds. Nonetheless, mission accomplished.

While Build Back Better faces numerous roadblocks, the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill was a hard-fought success story. Negotiations were tense and, at times, seemed on the brink of collapse. Nevertheless, the bill would pass 69 to 30. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was one of 19 Republicans who voted in favor. McConnell proudly voices his support for the legislation. It is remarkable considering McConnell once branded himself as the grim reaper of Democrat legislation.

“So think of me as the Grim Reaper: the guy who is going to make sure that socialism doesn’t land on the president’s desk.”

-Mitch McConnell

The bipartisan infrastructure bill faced an uncertain fate in the House due to it initially being paired with Build Back Better. Eventually passed it on its own in the House and was signed by President Biden. While many, not all, Republicans reviled its passage. Democrats had what could arguably be considered their most remarkable success story of 2021. Physical infrastructure legislation has been attempted over the years but has never been accomplished until now.

“This is what it looks like when elected leaders take a step toward healing our country’s divisions rather than feeding those very divisions.”

-Sen. Kyrsten Sinema before vote.

While messy, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a resounding positive for our future. Over the years, the number of American casualties has been unjustifiable—a continuous conflict with no end in sight. Military members serving our nation are selfless and honorable heroes. But, unfortunately, subject to the whims of our interventionist tendencies. Thank you, President Biden, for removing ourselves from a lose-lose situation.

Another success story was the vaccination of over 60% of Americans. While the coronavirus variant Omicron looms large over any previous successes, it is impossible to dismiss such an accomplishment.

Coronavirus is atop the list of concerns for most Americans. It has burdened and ravaged everyday aspects of American life throughout its existence. Unfortunately, it has continued to mutate and prolong this vicious cycle. When if ever coronavirus will resolve entirely is an anxiety-inducing uncertainty.

Many point their finger directly at the Trump administration for its dismissive approach to controlling coronavirus. President Biden won the 2020 presidential election in large part due to Trump’s recklessness and carelessness in his handling of coronavirus. For sure, Trump had an eventful presidency but nothing more noteworthy and consequential as coronavirus. All his blunders and embarrassments would have been background noise if Trump had led on fighting coronavirus. Instead, he was too focused on how it would harm his policies, particularly on economics. Safety protocol, concern, and compassion should have been his messaging priority. Being conscious of Americans’ real struggles would have gone a long way.

Gathering crowds of 20,000 plus at political rallies amid a pandemic was apathetic and selfish. Would it have been that difficult to sacrifice political aspirations for a moment? It is not complicated political science here. People were not only suffering and dying from coronavirus. But subject to Trump’s arrogance and apathy, whose primary concerns were electoral. President Biden has made every reasonable attempt he could to help curb the impact of coronavirus. Trump did not.

We cannot ignore the political challenges on the horizon for Democrats. The electoral defeats in Virginia and the close call in the New Jersey governor’s race show Democrats have their work cut out for them in 2022. As mentioned, coronavirus is on the rebound, with Omicron rapidly spreading as the most contagious disease variant yet. Inflation remains high with no signs of coming down. Priorities such as criminal justice reform, preserving abortion rights, and increasing the minimum wage have taken a backseat. As a result, there has become a new sense of urgency to accomplish two major priorities early next year.

Build Back Better, as initially designed, from the onset was a farfetched objective only seen as viable through rose-colored glasses. Six months of negotiations and its future is more uncertain than at the start. How did Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senate Budget Chairman, throw out a number like $6 trillion without immediately being laughed out of the room? Even a negotiated down $3.5 trillion was unrealistic under current circumstances. $1.75 trillion is proving challenging. Democrats are using reconciliation, which allows for passage on a simple majority, but its use is limited to exclusively budgetary items. The Senate Parliamentary has stuck down three different immigration proposals as an example of how her decision could shape Build Back Better.

Keeping the cost within the boundaries of $1.75 trillion required a bit of creativity. Democrats would fund individual programs for various timeframes to stay within budget. The objective was to pass them now and worry about renewing them later. The assumption was that once enacted; they would not be retracted. For example, a one-year extension of the enhanced child tax credit was an intricate part of Build Back Better but only funded for one year due to its enormous cost. Meanwhile, Universal pre-would be funded for six years.

Manchin expressing his opposition to Build Back Better on Fox News Sunday and delving further into his opposition Monday on MetroNews Talkline may have been the eyeopener Democrats needed. The problem Democrats had from the start is the assumption all Democrats will eventually go along to get along.

“They figured, ‘Surely to God we can move one person. Surely, we can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they’ll just say, ‘Okay, I’ll vote for anything just quit.’”

-Joe Manchin

While Manchin has become the poster child of opposition for Democrats, he is not necessarily wrong in his approach. Why create uncertainty about the future of each piece of the legislation? Democrats face the daunting reality they will no longer control both chambers of Congress following the 2022 midterms. It could very well be many years before they hold this kind of power again. So why risk the short-term expiration? There is a high degree of uncertainty that Republicans would even consider continuing any of them once they expire. Only now do Democrats recognize that a smaller but consistent package is more realistic and beneficial. It is where they should have started initially. The New Democrat Coalition has pointed this out previously.

“At the start of these negotiations many months ago, we called for prioritizing doing a few things well for longer, and we believe that adopting such an approach could open a potential path forward for this legislation.”

-Statement from Democrat Rep. Suzan DelBene chair of the New Democrat Coalition.

A statement from Rep. Pramila Jayapal suggests aspects of Build Back Better be enacted via executive order due to Manchin’s opposition. When White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about using executive orders to execute components of Build Back Better, she did not dismiss the possibility. Still, she said it was not something presently being discussed. It would be a mistake for President Biden to consider this route. It would give Manchin justification to walk away from discussions and put the final nail in the coffin of Build Back Better. Executive orders are reversible and provide an uncertain future to Americans who may rely on them. The quickest and easiest path is not always the best.

Schumer has said he will bring a version of Build Back Better up for a vote regardless of whether Democrats have a deal with Manchin. The idea is to put Manchin on the record as a no vote and continue to put pressure on him. Manchin has long been unphased by the prospect of holding a vote and has encouraged Schumer to do so previously. However, the effectiveness of such a strategy is questionable at best. For all the heat Manchin has endured throughout the process, I am skeptical a floor vote will be the reason he caves to pressure.

Voting rights legislation has been considered a top priority amongst Democrats. However, Republican-controlled states have continued enacting legislation that would impose statewide changes and restrictions on voting protocols. Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and Texas have already passed legislation while other states are in the process.

The path to passage of the Freedom to Vote Act is more perilous than even Build Back Better. At least with Build Back Better, Democrats have reconciliation at their disposal. Enacting the Freedom to Vote Act would need to go through regular order. Which means it is subject to a Republican filibuster. Sen. Schumer has said he will bring up a vote in January. If Republicans filibuster it again as expected, Democrats will attempt to change Senate rules regarding the filibuster. The numbers are not on Schumer’s side. It would require all 50 Democrats to vote in favor, with Vice President Harris breaking the tie. Both Manchin and Sen. Sinema of Arizona have been advocates for maintaining the filibuster and have thus far refused to alter their positions.

Democrats have been considering a few strategic options.

  • A carve-out for voting rights legislation would allow for a simple majority vote to pass voting rights legislation but other legislative proposals would still be required to meet or surpass the 60 vote threshold. President Biden has said he supports making an exception to the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation.
  • Reinstating the talking filibuster which would require opponents to hold the floor for as long as possible, ultimately only delaying eventually passage. Would require 51 votes to pass in the Senate.
  • Alter the filibuster threshold from 60 votes to proceed to a simple majority unless at least 41 Senators were present to block it. Opposing Senators would be forced to remain present on the floor to avoid passage.

None of these alternatives presently have the support of Manchin or Sinema. However, Manchin has voiced support for more minor procedural changes to allow the Senate to work more efficiently. He has even held meetings with Republicans on the issue.

Again, Schumer is taking what some would argue is an unnecessary risk as forcing votes does not equal success. Willingly exposing internal strife among Democrats is not appealing messaging; displaying dissension and resentment more than desire will have people further questioning Democrats’ ability to lead. Let the media speculate but do not affirm their perception.

Democrats find themselves in a situation where 2021 was not a complete loss but has ended on a dour note. Their significant accomplishments occurred early, and the last few months have been time-consuming with nothing to show for it. Democrat priories remain on the sidelines. Others are attempting to be intertwined into Build Back Better but may be forced to be removed in the end. We shall see what 2022 brings for Democrats.

Image Credit: “Chuck Schumer” by Talk Media News Archived Galleries is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Build Back Smaller?

Democrats initially envisioned a transformative piece of legislation expanding the social safety net, increasing efforts to combat climate change, and revising tax policy. Instead, rough patches have continuously plagued negotiations between Manchin and his colleagues. An unexpected avalanche has buried the prospects of moving forward on Build Back Better in its current form.

During his appearance on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced that he could no longer support Build Back Better.

“If I can’t go home and explain to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it. And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said. “This is a no on this piece of legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.”

Sen. Joe Manchin on Fox News Sunday disucssing Build Back Better.

From the onset, Sen. Manchin wielded enormous influence over the legislative process. He was able to extract significant concessions on the legislation. Democrats had to abandon many of their priorities in an attempt to gain his support. With all 50 Republicans in opposition, Democrats could not afford to lose a single vote from within their caucus.

The reconciliation bill’s overall price tag was reduced from $3.5 trillion to approximately $1.75 trillion. The removal of the Clean Energy Performance Program was a significant sacrifice for Democrats who strongly prioritized combating climate change. The program would have provided financial incentives to paid electric utility companies who switch to clean energy and penalized those who do not. Alternatives remained in play, such as a fee on methane emissions. Democrats also abandoned expanding Medicare to cover dental and vision; hearing remained in the bill. Tuition-free college and paid family leave were also subject to the chopping block.

Manchin has also criticized the bill, relying on “shell games” and “budget gimmicks” to disguise the actual long-term cost. In addition, Manchin raised objections to the bill’s structure, including varying timeframes on programs and deceitful revenue-raising measures.

Manchin released a statement following his television appearance. He put forward his fiercest criticism of Democrats and their vision for the country.

“My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face. I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hard-working American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores, and utility bills with no end in sight.”

Sen. Manchin’s written statement regarding his opposition to Build Back Better.

The White House did not take kindly to his comments and issued an immediate statement on the situation. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in her statement, went as far as to question Manchin’s honesty in regards to his commitment to continued negotiations.

“Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responding to Sen. Manchin.

Reportedly, Manchin notified the White House of his decision via a staff member approximately an hour before going live on Fox News Sunday. Politico reported Manchin refused to take a call from White House staff before his appearance on Fox News Sunday.

Progressives were unsurprisingly infuriated. Sen. Bernie Sanders on CNN’s State of the Union angrily ripped Sen. Manchin. Sen. Sanders suggested that a vote on Build Back Better be held and force Sen. Manchin to vote no.

“But if he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders on CNN’s State of the Union.

Manchin has said he is willing to hold a vote.

Many progressives were uncomfortable with passing the physical infrastructure bill beforehand as opposed to together in fear of a situation such as this occurring. Their instincts proved to be correct as the physical infrastructure bill has been signed into law, and President Biden’s signature piece of legislation has no path forward.

Republicans, on the other hand, were ecstatic to hear of Sen. Manchin’s public opposition to Build Back Better.

Mitch McConnell has talked glowingly about his friendship with Manchin. He has stated that he prays for him every night and praises him as a Senator. Whether political or sincere in his public statements, it leads one to question if the door opening further to a change in party affiliation for Manchin? Manchin has dismissed the prospects of such on numerous occasions. However, he did admit in an interview that it would be easier for him to be a Republican. McConnell has said he considers Manchin becoming a Republican unlikely but would certainly welcome it. Do not forget that in October, Manchin offered Democrats the option of leaving the party if he was a detriment to their messaging. Whether that meant still caucusing with Democrats as an Independent is unknown.

Manchin either outright becoming a Republican or becoming an Independent and caucusing with Republicans would be the ultimate burden for President Biden and Democrats. His life as a Democrat could very well become burdensome after making his decision to oppose Build Back Better.

Image Credit:“Inside Politics Press Breakfast – April 2013 featuring Sen. Joe Manchin III” by Third Way is licensed underCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Obstructing Common Sense

Sen. Mitch McConnell is the longest-serving Republican leader in history. He was first elected to the United States Senate in 1984. Serving in such roles as majority whip, minority leader, and majority leader throughout his political career. However, at 79 years old, McConnell was confronted with another recurrent headache. Not from Democrats, sparring with Democrats is familiar territory, but from within his caucus. Indeed not unfamiliar territory but more complicated.

Congress was tasked with a December 15th deadline to resolve the debt ceiling dispute following a temporary extension in October. After weeks of negotiations and discussions, McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed on a two-step process to raise the debt ceiling. First, a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority would be required to advance the bill, which would allow for a second vote on increasing the debt ceiling—only requiring a simple majority to pass. Democrats would need to specify an exact amount to raise the debt ceiling. The bill also prevents cuts to Medicare which put many Republicans in a difficult situation.

The House of Representatives passed the bill on a 222-212 vote. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois was the only Republican who voted in favor.

While McConnell received intense backlash from his party over the proposal, the debt ceiling standoff ended when the Senate advanced the bill 64-36. 14 Republicans voted to advance the bill exceeding the required 60-vote threshold. The Senate voted 59-35 on the final passage of raising the debt ceiling later the same day, only requiring a simple majority.

Despite the internal strife McConnell was able to avoid a fiscal and political catastrophe. If common sense were prevalent, raising the debt ceiling would not have required this convoluted process. Instead, McConnell played a crucial role in starting and ultimately ending this unnecessary debacle.

Republicans attempted to create this transparent facade portraying themselves as fiscally responsible overlords of the United States. Republicans argued that the party in power should be solely responsible for raising the debt ceiling. However, lifting the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending. Instead, it allows the Treasury Department to pay for already approved spending. In essence, Republicans were refusing to pay for debts they were, in part, responsible for incurring. Please make no mistake about it Republicans are profligate deficit spenders. There would be no qualms about deficit spending if it benefited their political objectives.

McConnell drove home that Democrats would not receive any Republican support in increasing the debt ceiling. Republicans demanded Democrats do so through reconciliation. Republicans were offering to expedite the process but vowed not to vote in favor. 46 Senate Republicans signed a pledge to abstain from increasing the debt ceiling.

McConnell eventually had an awakening and realized this childish acrimony had the potential to backfire. Forcing Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own was a flawed tactic from the onset. It would have harmed Republican 2022 electoral hopes. No one in their right mind would have viewed this as Republicans doing the right thing for the country’s fiscal stability. On the contrary, it would have brightened a bleak midterm outlook for Democrats. Democrats, on the other hand, would have gained a political advantage of being seen as the party who refused to play politics on an issue that should be without ideologically driven obstruction. Nothing positive comes out of a forced default or a down to the wire politically driven drama for Republicans. Even if I attempted to play devil’s advocate, I could find no justification. McConnell must have come to the same conclusion.

Unlike Donald Trump, McConnell is politically savvy. Obstructing Democrats is, for the most part, a unified effort amongst Republicans, and McConnell has made a career in doing so. Knowing when to back off is a lesson that more Republicans would benefit from learning. On Build Back Better utilize every avenue and maneuver available to block its passage. That’s politics and is fair game in the arena of politics. On the debt ceiling? Never.

Image Credit: “Mitch McConnell” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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