Editorials, Opinion

Turnabout is fair play, Sen. Manchin

During a Monday press conference, Sen. Joe Manchin decried the House of Representatives holding the bipartisan infrastructure bill “hostage” while debate plays out on the Build Back Better Act. He declared, “It is obvious compromise is not good enough for some in Congress. … Enough is enough.”

What Manchin is saying is that everyone needs to compromise — except him. His position as a Senate swing vote has given him unprecedented leverage to force his colleagues to meet his demands without him needing to give up any ground.

As frustrating as it often is, politics operates on tit-for-tat: Give me something I want, and I’ll give you something you want. And right now, the bipartisan infrastructure bill is the only leverage the rest of the congressional Democrats have against Manchin. If he wants it to pass, he needs to give them something in return.

Manchin insists he’s negotiated in good faith on the reconciliation bill, but we’d beg to differ. Between him and Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema, the so-called “moderate” demands are constantly changing, and as soon as progressives give them an inch, Manchin and Sinema move to take a mile. Holding the infrastructure bill hostage, as Manchin called it, is the only bargaining chip the party has left.

Normally, we’d be calling out the House of Representatives for holding up sorely needed legislation, but it’s rather satisfying to watch Manchin stamp his foot as he realizes that two can play at the obstructionist game.

Manchin’s new suggestion is to divide the various elements of the Build Back Better Act into separate bills. Various polls have indicated that individual measures — such as the child tax credit and lower prescription drug costs — are widely popular among voters of both parties. (On Tuesday, Manchin insisted Build Back Better is “not running popular in West Virginia.” We’re not sure who he’s hearing from, but we receive letters nearly every week supporting the bill.) However, Republicans, lawmakers and voters alike, are against the omnibus legislation on principle.

In another universe where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t lead the congressional Republicans, passing each element separately might be an option. But since former President Barak Obama was elected in 2008, the official stance of Republicans in Washington has been to vote down anything that Democrats promised on the campaign trail. Because of that, it’s highly unlikely that any one measure would get enough support to overcome the filibuster, and reconciliation — a process by which budget-related legislation can be passed by simple majority — can only be done, at most, twice a fiscal year, according to a PBS explainer.

In short, when it comes to social infrastructure, it has to be all or nothing.

On Tuesday, Manchin succinctly summed up his position: “My side of the aisle is truly not where I am.”

Obviously. But if even Manchin is going to acknowledge that he doesn’t stand with the Democrats, he can’t throw a fit when the party works against him as much as he works against it.