President Joe (Manchin) Moves the Goal Posts Again (with late night Postscript)
Today Joe Manchin, Senator from West Virginia, and the de facto President now, today held a press conference. In it he announced he couldn’t support the compromise framework proposal that former President, Joe Biden, got US House progressives to agree to last week.
As part of that Biden framework compromise, both sides in negotiations (progressives in the US House and Manchin-Senate in the Senate) would vote on the $1.75 Trillion ‘Reconciliation Bill’—formerly known as the ‘Build Back Better’ bill—and the $1.1T Infrastructure bill.
Over the weekend House progressives had conceded to Biden’s ‘compromise’ that would further reduce spending on human infrastructure and climate change in their Reconciliation bill. That compromise was reduced to $1.75T, dramatically cut from the progressives’ July $3.5 trillion original position.
From ‘Double’ to ‘Triple Teaming’ Progressives
Manchin and his counterpart, Senator Krysten Sinema, remained silent while Biden last week pushed, and got, House progressives to accept the $1.75T ‘compromise’. But today, November 1, in his press conference Manchin ‘sand-bagged’ progressives (again) by coming out against the compromise Biden ‘Framework’ proposal of $1.75T.
What we have here now is a triple-teaming of Democrat progressives: Manchin takes the lead, gives the appearance he’ll maybe accept a lower total spending. Sinema then jumps in and adds more demands. Both of them suggest maybe a deal to Biden. Biden now jumps in and pressures progressives to cut further. Manchin-Sinema balk again after progressives concede still further to Biden’s compromise ‘framework’. What was formerly a double team by Manchin-Sinema has now become a ‘triple-team’. There appears no end in sight to this kind of ‘bad faith’ bargaining to elicit concession and after concession from progressives and then refuse to accept.
The latest iteration of this strategy raises an interesting question. Was Biden just manipulated by Manchin? Or is this all a cleverly choreographed maneuver by all three—Manchin, Sinema, Biden—to keep progressives making concessions until there’s nothing at all left of the Reconciliation bill? Or until progressives walk away in disgust? Both of which would be just fine for Manchin, Sinema, the corporate wing of the Democrat party—not to mention McConnell and his Republican minions.
In his press conference this morning, Manchin in effect ‘moved the goalposts’ once again, as the saying goes. In fact, he took the goalposts off the field altogether just as progressives thought they might at least score a little extra point.
He attacked the progressive caucus in the House in no uncertain terms, calling them ‘irresponsible’ by not voting up the $1.1T infrastructure bill first. That’s been the Manchin-McConnell-Corporate strategy all along: get a vote on the Infrastructure bill that will fund corporate spending and then, once passed, allow the $1.75T Reconciliation bill with social program and climate change spending fade and not pass. House progressives (and Sanders in the Senate) know this game. That’s why they’ve been insisting on the two votes for both bills be held at the same time.
Nonetheless, in a strange inversion of logic, Manchin declared progressives were holding the Infrastructure bill “hostage” when, in fact, it was he and Sinema holding the Reconcilation bill hostage. The hostage metaphor breaks down, however, when one compares the progressives’ hostage taking to Manchin’s: the former indicate publicly what it will take to ‘free the hostages’ (i.e. just vote up both bills simultaneously), while Manchin refuses to say how much it will cost for him to release hostages. And when progressives make an offer, he just keeps raising the ante.
What we are seeing in this Manchin-Sinema attack on the Reconciliation bill may be the beginning of the end of the Democrat party.
Voting both bills up simultaneously is in fact now the last demand of the House progressives. They’ve already conceded to everything, cutting the $3.5T in half. All they wanted over the weekend was to have both bills passed and not get whipsawed by Manchin and friends.
It’s likely Manchin-Sinema signaled to Biden last week they might agree, if Biden pushed progressives to agree to his ‘framework’ proposal to cut out community college free tuition, to end paid leave of even 4 weeks, to drop Medicare dental, not allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare, not require power plants to convert to alternative fuels, no tax hikes on corporations, no hikes on wealthy individuals, etc. etc. All that was taken out of the Biden ‘framework’ proposal last week. The progressives then accepted all the cuts. They only wanted a simultaneous vote so Manchin-Sinema wouldn’t sandbag them again, and not agree and insist on Infrastructure vote first—after which both would almost certainly not vote on even the much reduced Reconciliation bill.
Manchin’s Neoliberal Arguments
In his press conferences Manchin raised the phony argument that he wanted to know how the $1.75T would affect the US economy first. As he put it: “I will not support the Build Back Better proposal until we know its economic effects”. That meant he would never know, since he could not know unless the bill was enacted first (which he won’t vote for), and then at least six months passed to see its effect on the economy. It was an absurdly illogic argument, and in reality a transparent excuse for not wanting to vote on the $1.75T at all.
We now know therefore his real position all along: Manchin & friends don’t want any bill except the corporate-friendly Infrastructure bill.
In his press conference remarks Manchin further raised several other phony economic arguments as his excuse for wanting to wait to see the effects of the $1.75T on the US economy.
He first argued that current inflation is due to household spending—i.e. excess Demand. Giving households more money via the Reconciliation bill programs would only raise more inflation. That point of course is rejected by nearly all economists. Inflation surge at present is not due to consumer demand; it’s clearly due to supply—i.e. broken global supply chains, domestic US supply problems as businesses refuse to ramp up until they see a clear recovery in the US, resurging Covid in areas of the country that is hampering workers from returning to work (and consumers shopping), problems with unavailable and unaffordable child care which is causing a slow return to work by workers, chronic low wages and unstable hours of work which is causing workers to refuse to return to their jobs, and a host of other ‘supply’ problems. Yet Manchin raises the ‘conservative-corporate’ fake argument that inflation is due to workers and middle class families having ‘too much income’ and therefore causing demand-driven price inflation.
Another fake argument Manchin raised was the $1.75T would only drive the US deficit and national debt further into the red. This is the same business argument that deficits and debt are due only to excess spending by the government. Absent conveniently from this argument is that chronic and rising deficits and debt since 2000 have been driven by tax cuts ($15 trillion) and war spending ($7 trillion) up to 2020. That’s $22 trillion and about the total of the national debt on the eve of Covid in 2020. So now Manchin doesn’t want to spend to rescue households, but was willing to spend to subsidize corporate-investor America for two decades with tax cuts and agreed to $7T in worthless war spending that produced defeats in the middle east.
The most insidious of Manchin’s argument against the $1.75T Biden framework compromise, however, was his point about Medicare and Social Security. He argued that how could we spend more money to add dental to Medicare when the Medicare fund was about to go bankrupt in five years and social security retirement by the mid-2030s? Both those points are false, of course.
Medicare trust fund is not about to go bankrupt. Revenue inflows from the 1.45% medicare tax may fall below outflows. But that’ not bankrupt. Same applies to the social security payroll tax.
Manchin certainly knows that Medicare and Social Security Retirement funds have nothing to do with the national budget deficit and debt. They are funded totally separately. Moreover, Trust Fund managers have estimated that a mere 0.25% tax added to the 1.45% would resolve the Medicare shortfall for decades.
And by simply removing the ‘cap’ on the social security retirement tax (now no one earning more than $147,000 a year has to pay the tax after that’s paid) will end the shortfall in 2035 in the retirement fund for another 75 years!
So Manchin plays the Corporate-Republican excuse game—blaming social program spending (aka Reconciliation bill) for inflation, for the national debt, and for pushing social security & medicare into bankruptcy.
As Manchin left the press conference he added “I won’t negotiate in public”. What he really meant was he won’t negotiate at all. His apparent real position now (as it has been all along) is: vote the Infrastructure bill first and the rest be damned.
In the media commentary following the press conference, the talking heads on CNN succinctly clarified what’s going on.
Talking Heads Sum Up
According to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “They’re a long long way from a deal”…”Senator Manchin says No Deal”.
His colleague, Manu Raju added “This is going to require a lot more changes to get Manchin support”.
Gloria Berger then noted that Manchin’s remarks that he wanted to know the economic effect of the $1.75T first, raised the open-ended point: “How long will it take to know the effect?”
All agreed the press conference resulted in deep trouble for the other Joe, you know the former president called Biden. His framework of last week and compromise at $1.75T that the progressives then accepted, was all but DOA now. Other Democrats running for office, like McAuliffe for Virginia governor, may now get the deep six in tomorrow’s election in that state.
Democrat Party Permanent Decline?
What we are seeing in this Manchin-Sinema attack on the Reconciliation bill may be the beginning of the end of the Democrat party. That’s certainly so in next year’s 2022 Congressional elections. And very likely in 2024. Meanwhile, Biden’s polls continue to go south—losing widespread support from his party’s progressive wing, families who believed Biden’s promises in the 2020 election he would deliver for them, and independents as well.
The even more important question is not just whether the Democrats will be wounded badly in future elections, but whether the split in the party will deepen and lead to something organizationally more permanent.
It remains to be seen how long with the progressive wing in the party put up with what is now clearly the strategy and intent of the party’s corporate wing—led by Manchin & Sinema—to prevent any further expansion of much needed social and climate change spending. Of course, this has been going on since the corporate wing, under the leadership of the ‘DLC (democrat leadership conference)’ faction took total control of that party in the early 1990s when it pushed its boy Bill Clinton to the top. That faction has come to run the party ever since and thwart most reasonable social programs—while joining the Neoliberal policy trend originally launched by Reagan in 1981 subsidizing corporations and capital incomes ever since 1992.
Will the progressives in the House, and the Sanders-Warren minority wing in the Senate, continue to be manipulated and denied? Give it no more than one year and we will know. But 30 years of track record should not lead one to be optimistic.
POSTSCRIPT to ‘President Joe (Manchin)–added evening of November 1
Mainstream media is now reporting, following Manchin’s press conference, that the House Progressives have in effect thrown in the towel and will agree to vote on the Infrastructure bill first. That leaves the $1.75T ‘build back better’ bill in the lurch. Appears the ‘triple teaming’ of Manchin-Sinema-Biden collapsed their resistance.
Some consequences: with the US economy now slowing, no further stimulus will add to the slowdown 3Q21 and after (Infrastructure bill spending won’t take effect until late 2022). Biden’s falling poll numbers (mostly Democrat supporters) will now continue. He’s finished. So is the Democrat House in Nov. 2022; What’s the future of progressive wing in the party? Bleak; What’s the future of the Democrat party itself???
Reportedly, McConnell, Trump, McCarthy seen line dancing together off camera!
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