Photo by Ryan Stanton, Creative Commons License 2.0

Maybe Joe Manchin didn't get enough hugs as a child. Or maybe he learned that if he threw a tantrum he'd get an extra scoop of ice cream. Or it could be he's just an asshole. Whatever the reason, Manchin yesterday put out a pissy op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he says he simply can't bring himself to vote for the Democrats' $3.5 trillion (over 10 years) budget plan that contains most of Joe Biden's first term agenda. It's just too expensive, he said, and what about the deficit and inflation? The plan had been to debate and pass the budget reconciliation package by the end of September, but Manchin's calling for a "pause" on that, to see if America really needs it.

So now congressional Democrats can return from the August recess to sing yet another chorus of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Joe Manchin?" before eventually paring down Biden's ambitious "Build Back Better" plans enough to get Manchin on board before the 2022 midterms.

Thing is, Democrats want a big legislative victory to run on, particularly if doing that can elect a few more Democrats to the Senate and make Manchin no longer the sticking point in getting things done. But if Manchin gets his way, any reconciliation package might be too small to accomplish much, increasing the odds of losing one or both houses in the midterms.

It's a hell of a catch, that Manch-22. It's the worst there is.


Manchin's op-ed is itself a load of possum poop, relying on a load of bogus assumptions aimed mostly at stoking the fears of fiscal conservatives, if any survived the flames of Trumpism. Manchin makes a point of using the word "trillions" a lot — 20 times in the op-ed's dozen paragraphs — because big spending just has to be bad, no matter what it's going toward.

Ah, but of course Manchin leaves himself an out:

I, for one, won't support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.

(Our emphasis of course.) So now Manchin can whine, and Democrats can come up with some sort of Manchin-shaped bribe (fine by us! bribe away!), and we can all live with a lot of DRAMA and needless bill-worsening before we finally get anything resembling the agenda Democrats have run on since forever.

In the case of the Build Back Better package, the spending would actually go toward shaping a fairer economy that would create enormous opportunities for Americans through programs that wouldn't merely do nice things for people, but would unleash some serious, sustainable economic growth. Free childcare and paid family leave would empower women to improve their job prospects, even start small enterprises. Universal pre-K and two years of free community college would create a more-capable, better-educated workforce. And spending on decarbonizing and moving toward a green energy will create millions of jobs, with the not inconsiderable benefit of increasing the odds there'll still be a resilient American economy in a warming world.

Seems kind of significant that on the day the death toll from Hurricane Ida climbed to at least 45 souls, Joe Manchin threatened to torpedo a bill that could begin leading America out of the climate emergency.

Manchin also presents some arguments that may play well with Wall Street Journal readers, but have little to do with the actual reconciliation plan. He frets about the terrible supposed effects of more deficit spending, although the plan is designed to pay for the new spending through rolling back many of Trump's 2017 tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy (a measure Manchin also opposes, big surprise). He frets about the supposed crisis in funding for Medicare, ignoring the plans to reduce Medicare costs by finally negotiating down the price of prescription drugs.

And again and again, Manchin cries about the supposed specter of "runaway inflation" even though we're experiencing no such thing — as New York magazine's Jonathan Chait points out,

inflation is well below the levels of the 1980s — hardly a time when workers carried home their paychecks in wheelbarrows — and near levels of the mid-aughts. [...]

Manchin seems to be confusing stimulus spending — which jolts the economy into faster levels through deliberate infusions of deficit spending — with permanent social spending increases, whose fiscal and inflationary effect is negated by their financing source.

Fortunately, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm made clear on MSNBC's "All In With Chris Hayes" last night that Team Biden is ready for these arguments. She pleasantly dismissed Manchin's deficit fretting, pointing out that "Joe Biden agrees with" Manchin, which is why the plan is paid for. And as for inflation worries, Granholm noted that eco-boffins at Moody's Analytics — hardly a band of raving socialists — had found that

the build back better agenda not only is good for the long term, but it will also help to control inflation in the long term because these are smart investments that are not intended just to juice the economy right now but to set our country on the right path for the future.

It's good to see the White House is prepared to counter Manchin's arguments; the fight to get Biden's agenda passed is still likely to get ugly, depending on how much Manchin digs in his heels. It's particularly weird, since pretty much everything in the proposal polls well, particularly with West Virginia voters. Somebody ought to remind Manchin that if Biden's agenda does well, Democrats will too. In fact, someone should call Manchin to the Oval Office to have a chat about it.

[WSJ / MSNBC / New York / Moody's / Photo by Ryan Stanton, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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