They were already hanging by the thinnest of threads, these high-wire Democrats who somehow forged a path to full executive and legislative power in 2020. Their hard-won majorities in Congress are so fragile that they walk the tightrope with every pronouncement and proposal. And regardless of their virtual circus act that dragged a feeble old man into the White House, like all such tightrope walks, their footing is so tenuous that the slightest loss of balance can cause a swift and mighty crash to earth.
Such is the plight of Democrats as they face a new political season. Their previous optimism, ambition, and equilibrium have been severely challenged by this president’s self-imposed calamity in Afghanistan, on top of the re-emergence of COVID-19, another deeply disappointing jobs report, sharply declining confidence in the economy, an unabating political and humanitarian crisis on our southern border, and relentless controversy over critical race theory in schools.
That is, to say the least, hardly a ripe environment to go on the type of break-the-bank, full-on socialist spending spree the Democrats have in mind. But they have another big problem that just got bigger. His name is Joe Manchin.
Manchin Pumps the Breaks on Spending
West Virginia’s senior senator has long been the skunk at the Democrats’ garden party, the lone holdout for more or less traditional values – and some semblance of fiscal restraint – in a party increasingly sold out to its vocal progressive wing. So, they knew he would be a problem the moment they achieved a 50-50 tie in the Senate with their twin eleventh-hour victories in Georgia. And he has been exactly that; making statements periodically over the last six months betraying clear discomfort with his party’s assault on the federal treasury, destruction of minority party rights through termination of the Senate filibuster, and schemes to federalize elections and pack the courts.
But for all his ideological objections, Manchin is at base a deft politician – he is the lone Democrat holding statewide office in bright red West Virginia – and thus realizes what the myopic, wild-eyed radicals in his party apparently do not: an agenda of major systemic reform advanced by the narrowest of majorities, especially a freshly embattled one, is what many would rightly call political malpractice. It is the equivalent of trying to take a mile when granted an inch.
So Manchin has now ratified and made official his opposition to the Democrats’ massive multi-trillion-dollar budget resolution jam-packed with every tax-and-spend wish list item they could feasibly shoehorn into a bill designed to circumvent the 60 vote requirement in the Senate through a process called reconciliation. It’s one thing to make occasional statements on the run about your opposition to particular measures. It’s quite another to put it on the record at The Wall Street Journal in an op-ed with the stark title, “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion.”
Asserting that “the nation faces an unprecedented array of challenges,” Manchin warns of “an overheating economy [which] has imposed a costly ‘inflation tax’ on every middle- and working-class American.” He decries his party’s willful blindness, complaining that “now Democratic congressional leaders propose to pass the largest single spending bill in history with no regard to rising inflation, crippling debt or the inevitability of future crises … How will America respond to such crises if we needlessly spend trillions of dollars today?”
Manchin then pens the words which sound like a death knell for the left’s grand plans: “Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation.”
The Honeymoon is Over
Democrats always appeared to be wishing upon a star in thinking they could slip the declining Joe Biden past an unwitting public under the cover of pandemic darkness. They managed to do so in 2020, and perhaps that’s why they seemed for a time to actually believe they had captured lightning in a bottle – and could get it to strike twice. But the honeymoon for their president, if not for them, has come to a crashing halt, and given way to the bitter political reality surrounding them in 2021. Their legislative leaders now stand all but silent.
If Democrats somehow remain unconvinced of their steep decline in the eyes of the public, and the futility of trying to ram through their agenda amidst a collapsing presidency, stubborn pandemic, and fragile economy, consider the conclusion of a poll just released by prestigious Emerson College. Even after all the post-election trauma leading to January 6 and all the media did to vilify Trump and his supporters, if a do-over of the 2020 election was conducted now, Trump would defeat Biden. If that by itself is not a wake-up call for reeling Democrats, it’s hard to imagine what would be.
Read more from Tim Donner.