A Sanders-Manchin stalemate?

Back in 2009-10, when the Democrats controlled 59-60 Senate seats, they were pleased as punch to pass a $1 trillion stimulus package and the “camel” known as Obamacare. Sure, some Dems wished for even more stimulus money and the “horse” of single-payer health insurance. But there was no serious resistance to settling for less and few public complaints about not getting more.

Twelve years later, with the Dems controllingly only 50 Senate seats, they can’t seem to coalesce around $2.5 to $3 trillion in new spending.

Not long ago, this development would have seemed almost inconceivable. But it would also have seemed inconceivable that Bernie Sanders would nearly win the Democratic presidential nomination and be calling plays in Congress for a big faction of the party, that the left would foist Critical Race Theory on so many public schools, that a campaign to defund the police would gain major traction, and so on.

Today, Sanders announced that Medicare expansion must be a part of the reconciliation bill the Democrats hope to force through the Senate on a strictly partisan vote. Sanders insists on expanding Medicare to encompass dental and vision insurance, and says this demand is “not negotiable.”

But Joe Manchin has said that Medicare needs to be stabilized before it is expanded, because “by 2026. . .the trust fund is going to be insolvent.” Perhaps Manchin also has constituents who are having trouble finding doctors who will accept Medicare. We are.

The positions of Sanders and Manchin are incompatible. Thus, while it still seems less than likely, it’s easy to conceive that the Democrats will leave $2.5 to $3 trillion on the table or perhaps settle for only the $1 million in “infrastructure” money. Maybe the whole boondoggle will die on a hill of eye glasses and dentures.

The Sanders wing of the party argues that instead of stripping programs and benefits like dental and vision coverage out of the reconciliation package, the bill should reduce the number of years in which the benefits will accrue. The theory is that voters will like the programs and benefits so much they will have to be renewed.

But voters won’t like it if Medicare collapses under its present burdens plus those imposed by new benefits.

It might also be worth recalling that the Democrats passed Obamacare believing it would be too popular to repeal. They were more right than wrong in this assessment. However, Obamacare was sufficiently unpopular to contribute to the Democrats losing the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and arguably the presidency in 2016.

But neither the merits nor the politics of expanding Medicare really matters. All that matters is how Joe Manchin views the situation.

He has made his view clear. If anyone gives significant ground in this dispute, it’s at least as likely to be Sanders and his camp as Manchin’s one-man (or one-man, one-woman) band.

Or so it seems to me.

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