There was a time when Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia who seems to hold the balance of power in Washington these days, was a hero to those on the right. After all, not only had he singlehandedly sunk President Biden’s Build Back Better bill, he had done so not by quietly informing the White House that he wouldn’t support it, but by announcing it publicly – on Fox News, of all places.

Manchin then quietly re-engaged negotiations on a domestic policy spending package, only to withdraw from those negotiations a few weeks ago. After that, Manchin and Schumer released a new version of the bill, scaled back even more, a version that Manchin apparently supported for two reasons. He got all of the credit, and they called it the Inflation Reduction Act – so that must really be what it does.

While negotiating this secret deal behind closed doors, Manchin was being praised by conservative pundits for being the only Democrat in Washington willing to stand up against Biden’s big-government agenda. To the delight of Republicans, it looked like Manchin was a Democrat trying to thwart his own party’s agenda. Sadly, plenty of conservative commentators fell for the schtick. The real truth is that Manchin fed it to them – and to all of us – hook, line, and sinker.

They’re not the only ones who were fooled, though. Liberals also believed that Manchin opposed their agenda and would thwart them at every turn. They publicly and privately castigated him, and House leadership decided to push through with votes on bills they knew would never pass the Senate – accountability votes, they called them, to get Republicans on the record. In the process, they wasted a lot of time with pointless political grandstanding, casting show votes on bills that would never pass. While that might please their donors and their grassroots supporters, it is hugely unimpressive to the average voter struggling to deal with the impact of inflation on their day-to-day life.

For a moment, it seemed as if Manchin might be thwarting his own party’s proposals for a nobler purpose, that he inherently sensed that their tax-and-spend, big-government agenda was too much for centrist voters all over the country to tolerate – not just in West Virginia. Manchin, it could be argued, was saving the Democrats from themselves.

The truth is that he, along with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, were protecting the special interests that support them, rather than doing the right thing for their party or their country.


The problem with negotiating a scaled-back bill is that it leaves both sides unsatisfied and makes further progress more difficult. Liberals will be disappointed that Manchin’s bill doesn’t do more to address climate change and social spending. While it may spare him a few nasty letters to the editor in his home state, it won’t help placate the truly dedicated activists on the left. They’ll still be left with the nagging impression that Democratic leadership doesn’t really take their concerns seriously, even if they accept this was the best deal they could hope for in the current political climate.

Not only will Manchin’s deal fail to fully placate liberals, it didn’t manage to attract a single Republican vote. Partly that’s because of real disputes over policies in the legislation, like the tax increase, but also because the deal was struck behind closed doors. It’s especially galling to Republicans that the deal was announced after Congress passed a bipartisan bill to support American microchip manufacturers, and that Democrats made no effort to get their support. Sen. Susan Collins made it clear that she not only opposed the deal itself, but that it could cost the White House support on other issues.

These backroom deals are not just bad governing, but they’re bad politics. Should the Republicans regain the majority, this will make it even harder for Biden to cut deals with them on anything – already a slim possibility. Moreover, it won’t prevent any Republican political attacks before then. The deal raises taxes, after all, and it’s questionable whether it does anything to combat inflation. Taking this small step now may cost Democrats politically while stopping bigger steps later. Although this compromise among Democrats may seem like a big win for Biden, it will do more harm than good, both in terms of politics and policy.


Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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