“Senator, we know you are all about bipartisanship, but President Biden did not get a single Republican vote for a relief package in the middle of a pandemic, so at this point doesn’t bipartisanship seem like a false hope?”- ABC’s Martha Raddatz to Manchin (3-7)
Senator Manchin was on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” right after the passage of the American Rescue Plan on a 50-49 Senate vote (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/week-transcript-21-sen-joe-manchin-gov-mike/story?id=76305921 ). As he noted, Biden had brought in 10 of his more reasonable GOP colleagues to talk prior to ever structuring the bill and “we had an awful lot of input from my Republican friends.” But even though Manchin said that he wants the “moderate middle to work”, not one of them voted for it.
It seems like Manchin has the right ideas for a perfect world… but enabled by Trump supporters, tribalism has destroyed that world for the foreseeable future. That’s why Senator Mitch McConnell has declared “total unity from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do” (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/05/mitch-mcconnell-joe-biden-obstruction ) . Just like Mitch did when he halted the Obama agenda.
In the ABC interview, Senator Manchin emphasized that his guiding principle is “commonsense.” But commonsense tells us that if you are Biden and want something to get done in the Senate on infrastructure, you may have to do it without GOP votes, as was done to enact the American Rescue Plan. And that makes Senator Manchin a shot caller in the Senate.
As of today, Biden has voted 100% in line with Biden’s positions on dozens of bills (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/biden-congress-votes/joe-manchin/ ). However, that often is because Biden has modified his proposals to be in line with something that Manchin can vote for. Frankly, Biden has had little choice given the solid, uncompromising wall of opposition on the GOP side.
The one real positive is that these two guys are very similar in many ways. Biden and Manchin are both working class, down to earth people that care for the little guy. And they truly like each other. As Manchin said, “I think he’s a good human being, just a good heart and a good soul and he’s the right person at the right time for America” (https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/548091-inside-the-surprisingly-close-biden-manchin-relationship ).
When politicians like and respect each other, they make compromises to get things done. The real question becomes, what does each side want and how can they reach a deal where both win more than they lose. In the immediate future, that may mean breaking the infrastructure bill into smaller sections so that some of it is enacted and modifying tax increases. Likewise with items like healthcare, gun control and the minimum wage.
For example, Bernie and Warren are pushing to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 55 (note: most progressives want it to cover all ages). Candidate Biden said he would lower it to 60. Manchin is hesitant but could probably be convinced if Biden spoke with him.
On gun control, Manchin could get behind some reforms, even if not the major changes that are needed to have a full impact. In 2013, the Manchin-Toomey background check bill was defeated 54-46 in the Senate. Five Democrats voted against it. Just 8 years later, none of them are in the Senate and more progressive people have taken their place. Why not take it up again and have Manchin get a GOP co-sponsor like Collins to round-up GOP support?
As for the minimum wage, Manchin wants $11/hour. Biden wants $15. Compromise at $13/hour. It will get 50 votes.
You will notice that I have predicated everything on 50 Senate votes rather than 60, the number needed if filibustered. That’s because getting these bills enacted will take avoiding the filibuster, either through budget reconciliation or other means. And Manchin must agree to it, as he did with the American Rescue Plan, or nothing at all will be accomplished in the rest of Biden’s term.
Constituents often complain about Washington deal making, but without these deals, we would not have much forward progress. Said another way, what can the President give to Manchin to get him on board with Biden’s priorities?