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Un Tiro Manchin

Summary:
The italian idiom for a low blow (also for an unexpected blow) is “un tiro mancino” literally a left handed blow. Manchin hit all the other Democrats with a tiro mancino yesterday. Notably “mancino” means left handed so, hard as it is to believe, he had ancestors who were lefties as in left handed. Aside from the irresistable pun, I feel the need to write about senator Manchin, because I can’t stop thinking about him. I suspect that reading this would be a waste of time. (here is background information which I assume is all well known*) The minimum is that after months of making all other Democrats (except sometimes Synema) bend to his will and follow his whims, senator Joseph Manchin declared that he will not vote for the build back better

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The italian idiom for a low blow (also for an unexpected blow) is “un tiro mancino” literally a left handed blow. Manchin hit all the other Democrats with a tiro mancino yesterday. Notably “mancino” means left handed so, hard as it is to believe, he had ancestors who were lefties as in left handed.

Aside from the irresistable pun, I feel the need to write about senator Manchin, because I can’t stop thinking about him. I suspect that reading this would be a waste of time. (here is background information which I assume is all well known*)

The minimum is that after months of making all other Democrats (except sometimes Synema) bend to his will and follow his whims, senator Joseph Manchin declared that he will not vote for the build back better bill (BBB). He said this on Fox News after giving the White House 30 minutes warning and after refusing to take a call from president Biden.

First links. Josh Marshall is, as always, very smart and clear. He is also pessimistic and very angry at Manchin. I advise to just click and read, but the key points are

“We’re getting a bit more sense here of the final blow up that led to the demise of the BBB. Apparently the real blow up was that the White House put out a statement last week in which the President said he believed he was making progress on finalizing a Build Back Better deal with Joe Manchin. The key apparently was that he named Manchin specifically rather than Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema or Manchin and the rest of the caucus or whatever else.”

(note the pessimism, I do not believe that the build back better bill (BBBB) is dead yet). Importantly, Manchin does not even pretend that he made a choice based on the interests of the country or his responsibilities as a senator. He said he was at his “wits end” (a very brief journey from his wits beginnings).

Marshall is confident that he did this because he was furious over the implication that he alone was preventing passage of the bill. Since then, Manchin has faced absolute proof that he alone is preventing passage of the bill. since his public fit, he has discovered that the right most other Democrats in Congress are appalled. Greg Sargent reports “Manchin is already more isolated than he likely expected: Numerous moderate Democrats are hammering him “

Presumably as a result, he has already taken his “no” back and promised to negotiate. This is something, although it might mean a return to his complaints without counterproposals which aren’t really negotiations.

importantly he did propose something soon before the blowup — can the other Democrats just say yes ? First note it has to be 218 in the house, and 49 in the Senate. Biden can’t just accept Manchin’s proposal, because the other other Democrats won’t just automatically follow him. Another probably fatal problem with the just say yes strategy is that Manchin’s proposal was not detailed legislative language. He can (and certainly would) object that an actual bill was not written according to his specifications. However, I do agree with Jon Chait that this is the best strategy now. It is humiliating, but policy is more important than pride.

Ah I have mentioned Jon Chait. I think I basically agree with him. Also I am almost as angry with him as with Manchin. I think I will write a separate even more pointless post about that. I think the best strategy for the other Democrats is to accept Manchin’s latest (and first and only) proposal, then come back for the rest after the build back not so bad bill passes. Aside from future tiri Manchin, this is a high risk strategy, because it demands an extraordinary level of discipline from all the other Democrats. I think there is a risk that a Biden-Manchin deal will be rejected by the House. Nancy Pelosi is the best there’s even been, but human patience has limits and members of congress are proud.

I want to speculate about how we got to yesterday’s mess. This is pure amateur psychology, but I can’t resist. First it is very clear that Manchin said no to the 3.5 Trillion bill without considering its content. Notably he now says he “can’t explain” the sprawling bill to West Virginians. I am fairly sure he means that he doesn’t understand it. Of course the price tag is high, but I am sure that he decided that he wouldn’t just say yes to other Democrats some decades ago.

He objected but didn’t have any specific objections. He still doesn’t. Yesterday, he argued that the bill shouldn’t be passed because of the Omicron variant. He has also mentioned the Social Security Trust fund. This is Sarah Palin level policy analysis.

I am confident Manchin expected to get arguments he could borrow from conservatives. A very unusual aspect of the BBB debate is that arguments against the bill on policy grounds have been few (or non-existent ?– I can’t remember any). This is very unusual. I think it shows that the wonk gap has become a chasm — I can’t name a conservative policy wonk anymore.

I think this put Manchin (and Synema) on the spot. Manchin very clearly states that he feels put upon. He absurdly asked why he has to do the work of finding a proposal acceptable to Manchin after all the other Democrats (including Symema and Gottheimer) reached agreement. He reports being the victim of an avalanche of criticism. Of course he is buried under and avalanche of completely valid criticism. He is asked questions he can’t answer. It is argued by every neutral observer that he is destroying his party. It is argued by every commentator that he is hurting his country. So his feelings are hurt.

Note the explosion of outrage at Biden’s suggestion that Joe Manchin is the only remaining barrier to the bill. It was not rude to say this — the President presented one (1) Senator as his equal. Biden declared Manchin to be co-president. The reason Manchin was outraged is that he knows that he is not only alone in his caucus but massively outnumbered in the country and in his state. The facts are damning and he will be damned if he is damned by them.

I think the only solution to his monstrous ego is to submit again. Everyone else will suffer and he won’t even enjoy it, but it is clear that there is no reasoning with him. The other Democrats may be able to collectively say yes sir to him which might possibly satisfy his ego and this is the only hope.

Looking forward, I note that 2022 is another year with another budget resolution. I’d go back to a resolution with paid leave, increased child subsidies, refundable child subsidies, and free community college. It won’t pass (Manchin will block it) but it will be a good messaging bill.

I’d also bring separate regular order bills to the floor. I think it is very much in the interests of all Democrats to allow Republicans to vote against cloture on those bills again and again and again.

Robert Waldmann
Robert J. Waldmann is a Professor of Economics at Univeristy of Rome “Tor Vergata” and received his PhD in Economics from Harvard University. Robert runs his personal blog and is an active contributor to Angrybear.

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