Civility is Gone

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia appeared frustrated; some argue he was just tired during Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s lambasting of Republicans on the Senate floor Thursday. Mr. 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,” Mr. Manchin told reporters as he was leaving the capital. “Civility is gone,” acknowledging both sides have been guilty.

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Civility has long been going out of style, and it is nearing the brink of extinction. Mr. Manchin suggests he is going to try to bring it back. He 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 Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has angered Democrats in her own right, is as isolated as Mr. 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?

Mr. 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. Senate Minority Leader 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 Mr. 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 Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski how that works. The second Mr. 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 Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema presently. Also, Mr. 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. Mr. 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.

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I believe the only way Mr. Manchin would consider such a drastic move is if Democrats were idiotic enough to strip him 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.

Mr. 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 Mr. Manchin and Ms. 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, Mr. 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.

Mr. 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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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.

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From the onset, Mr. 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.

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

Mr. 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, Mr. Manchin notified the White House of his decision via a staff member approximately an hour before going live on Fox News Sunday. Politico reported Mr. 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 Mr. Manchin. Mr. Sanders suggested that a vote on Build Back Better be held and force Mr. 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.

Mr. 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.

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

Senate Minority Leader 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 Mr. Manchin? Mr. 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. Mr. McConnell has said he considers Mr. Manchin becoming a Republican unlikely but would certainly welcome it. Do not forget that in October, Mr. 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.

Mr. 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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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

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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 Sen. Jon Ossoff and Sen. 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 Mr. Manchin. What was once a $400-a-week unemployment payment was reduced to $300 at the instance of Mr. Manchin. In addition, up to $10,200 in taxes would be forgiven on unemployment benefits received through 2020 as part of their agreement. Mr. Manchin was prepared to vote in favor of an amendment by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, which forced Democrats into last-minute negotiations with Mr. 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.

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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. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was one of 19 Republicans who voted in favor. Mr. McConnell proudly voices his support for the legislation. It is remarkable considering he 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.

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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 Mr. Trump’s recklessness and carelessness in his handling of coronavirus. For sure, Mr. Trump had an eventful presidency but nothing more noteworthy and consequential as coronavirus. All his blunders and embarrassments would have been background noise if he 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 Mr. 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. Mr. 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.

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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 preschool would be funded for six years.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

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Mr. Schumer has said he will bring a version of Build Back Better up for a vote regardless of whether Democrats have a deal with Mr. Manchin. The idea is to put Mr. Manchin on the record as a no vote and continue to put pressure on him. Mr. Manchin has long been unfazed by the prospect of holding a vote and has encouraged Mr. Schumer to do so previously. However, the effectiveness of such a strategy is questionable at best. For all the heat Mr. 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 Mr. Schumer’s side. It would require all 50 Democrats to vote in favor, with Vice President Harris breaking the tie. Both Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema 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 Mr. Manchin or Ms. Sinema. However, Mr. 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, Mr. 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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