Joe Manchin has become one of the most powerful members of Congress — not through seniority, or ability, or his oratorical skills. Joe Manchin is a powerful senator because he’s not as radical as most Democrats and, more importantly, doesn’t fear their wrath in standing up to them. His power flows from simple math: Biden needs every single Democrat to sign on to his radical agenda or Republicans will block it.
Manchin’s old-fashioned notion that compromise and consensus are the way to make good laws is driving his radical colleagues crazy. The West Virginia moderate said yesterday that he would oppose using reconciliation to pass Joe Biden’s infrastructure and came out strongly against repealing or even amending the filibuster.
“I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate,” Manchin said in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. “Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues.”
Democrats relied on the budget reconciliation process to avoid a possible Republican filibuster and pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March with a simple majority in the Senate. They have been considering doing the same with Biden’s proposed infrastructure package.
“The filibuster is a critical tool to protecting that input and our democratic form of government. That is why I have said it before and will say it again to remove any shred of doubt: There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” Manchin said.
The question is, what will the Republican response be? Here’s one Democrat reaching across the aisle to try and accomplish something good for America — federal help to fix the uncountable roads and bridges that need to be repaired.
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And what will Biden do? His agenda is now under direct threat by a member of his own party. Biden isn’t going to pass anything without 10 Republicans agreeing to it. This reality is also going to empower GOP moderates, forming a small but significant group of centrists that Biden can either ignore or work with to get something done.
“Every time the Senate voted to weaken the filibuster in the past decade, the political dysfunction and gridlock have grown more severe,” Manchin wrote, saying it was time to end “political games” and return to a “new era of bipartisanship.”
The centrist Democrat from West Virginia said last month he could see making filibusters more “painful” to carry out, although he was not in favor of eliminating them.
The Senate really doesn’t function without consensus. That’s how it was set up and how it has operated across most of its history. Consensus doesn’t mean peace, love, and harmony but it does require give and take — compromise. This has become a dirty word on both sides as any sign of “weakness” is met with withering criticisms of “surrender.”
Are there really enough “centrists” to end gridlock and bring about Manchin’s “new era of bipartisanship”? Not entirely, but there may be enough consensus on two or three issues to get something done — if the president is of a mind to also compromise.
There is a danger for the Republicans in going along with any part of Biden’s agenda. Making Biden look successful in Congress would greatly aid his reelection. And then there’s Donald Trump in the background who would see any acquiescence to Biden’s agenda as tantamount to a betrayal. That complicates things enormously for Republicans.
But if Manchin sticks to his guns on filibuster reform, Biden’s hands will be tied and there won’t be much he can do.