Manchin calls time out on reconciliation

Sen. Joe Manchin has thrown a monkey wrench into Democrats’ plan to pass, via reconciliation, a $3.5 trillion spending package on top of the trillion dollar (or so) bipartisan “infrastructure” bill. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed called “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion,” Manchin states:

The nation faces an unprecedented array of challenges and will inevitably encounter additional crises in the future. Yet some in Congress have a strange belief there is an infinite supply of money to deal with any current or future crisis, and that spending trillions upon trillions will have no negative consequence for the future. I disagree.

An overheating economy has imposed a costly “inflation tax” on every middle- and working-class American. At $28.7 trillion and growing, the nation’s debt has reached record levels. Over the past 18 months, we’ve spent more than $5 trillion responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Democratic congressional leaders propose to pass the largest single spending bill in history with no regard to rising inflation, crippling debt or the inevitability of future crises. Ignoring the fiscal consequences of our policy choices will create a disastrous future for the next generation of Americans.

Those who believe such concerns are overstated should ask themselves: What do we do if the pandemic gets worse under the next viral mutation? What do we do if there is a financial crisis like the one that led to the Great Recession? What if we face a terrorist attack or major international conflict? How will America respond to such crises if we needlessly spend trillions of dollars today?

Instead of rushing to spend trillions on new government programs and additional stimulus funding, Congress should hit a strategic pause on the budget-reconciliation legislation. A pause is warranted because it will provide more clarity on the trajectory of the pandemic, and it will allow us to determine whether inflation is transitory or not.

(Emphasis added)

Actually, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has already said she won’t support a $3.5 trillion reconciliation deal. Her refusal alone would have been sufficient to block it.

But Manchin seems to add another obstacle by calling for a pause. The most natural way to read his statement is that he wants to wait before voting on any large reconciliation package — wait until certain variables become better known. It will be some time before we know whether a new, deadly coronavirus variant will emerge, whether the inflation is “transitory,” and, perhaps most importantly, what the mood of the country is as we head towards an election year.

It’s possible, nonetheless, that Manchin (and Sinema) will agree soon to a smaller reconciliation package of, say around $2.5 trillion. I can certainly see that happening. But if we take Manchin’s op-ed at all seriously, it’s possible that he won’t — not for many months, anyway. And by then, who knows?

Where does Manchin’s bombshell leave Nancy Pelosi? Allahpundit points out that she imposed a September 27 deadline for bringing both the reconciliation package and the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the House floor for a vote.

However, Pelosi’s left flank has said it won’t vote for the bipartisan measure without the reconciliation package, and Pelosi herself has taken this position at times. With the latter legislation now on indefinite pause thanks to Manchin, will she hold a vote on the bipartisan piece if Manchin sticks to his guns? If so, will she have the votes to pass it?

At Talking Points Memo, Kate Riga complains that Manchin’s move “could also end Democrats’ chance to meaningfully legislate for years.” That’s possible, depending on how one defines “meaningfully legislate,” But Sens. Manchin and Sinema don’t seem to want such legislation in the sense that Riga means.

Neither do the American people. Otherwise, they would have elected a Senate that could muster 50 votes for the task. And otherwise, Democrats wouldn’t be obsessed by the idea that they won’t have this opportunity again for years.

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