Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is pushing ahead with the controversial $3.5 trillion spending bill, even though Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) publicly declared that he wouldn’t vote for such a high price tag and asked for a “strategic pause.” According to Schumer, “we’re moving full speed ahead.” Is the Senate’s Democratic Party leadership telling Manchin to put up or shut up, betting he’ll fold rather than face the outrage of the party base should he stand his ground, or is there something Schumer knows that the rest of us don’t?
Could the Centrists Cave?
Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are the two primary roadblocks in the party to passing the so-called human infrastructure bill, both of whom have positioned themselves as somewhat centrist by refusing to bust the filibuster and demanding less partisan legislation. According to The Hill, Schumer and Company are betting they can pressure the moderates to back down on calls for a smaller, $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion option. Alexander Bolton suggests:
“In doing so, they’re essentially daring Manchin and other moderates like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to vote against the eventual budget reconciliation package, knowing that the base would erupt in anger over any Democratic lawmakers who buck the party on such a high-profile vote.”
But is that really a concern for those senators? Presenting themselves as moderates who would strive for bipartisanship is what got both of them elected to begin with, and regarding the more progressive members of the local base who will be angry, neither senator has to face that wrath until 2024.
Manchin said in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that he wouldn’t vote for a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Axios reported more recently that Manchin won’t support anything over $1.5 trillion, though the senator and his staff have yet to confirm that number.
Still, Schumer seems unphased. “In our caucus – there are some in my caucus who believe $3.5 trillion is too much, there are some in my caucus who believe it’s too little,” he told the press Wednesday, September 8. “I can tell you this: In reconciliation, we’re all going to come together to get something done, and second, it’s our intention to have every part of the Biden plan in a big and robust way.” So what does the majority leader know that we don’t? Will Manchin and Sinema cave and toe the party line – or is something else afoot?
Could It Be a Setup?
Strategists for the Democratic Party warn of a backlash from voters should the legislation fall far below the $3.5 trillion mark. Could that be Schumer’s game? Force the vote and set Manchin and Sinema up to either acquiesce or take the fall – or has another deal been made behind the scenes? So far, Manchin has stuck by his guns and said he would only support the spending package if it cost less – this, despite Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) claim that “the overwhelming majority of members of the budget committee – and I think a good 80 or more percent of the Democratic members of the Senate – supported a $6 trillion bill.”
According to an aide, the deadline to finish the bill is Friday and there’s no indication the final version will be trimmed down any. “There are going to be a lot of changes, a lot of compromises that everybody is going to have to make,” explained Democratic Party strategist Mike Lux. “The most important thing is to stay calm and keep talking to each other. Sooner or later we’ll get a package that both Joe Manchin and [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] can embrace because we need everybody. I think it will work itself out in the end.” Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t; a bill that satisfies the moderates and the progressives is a tall order. In any case, with Schumer pushing for a vote, the issue is coming to a head. Next week – or even this weekend – may well reveal just where Manchin and Sinema stand and whether Schumer’s right or if his plan will blow up in his face.
Read more from James Fite.