Obstructionist Democrats Could Still Kill the Manchin Deal

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Democrats are understandably excited by the unexpected reemergence of the left-for-dead FY 2022 budget reconciliation bill (formerly Build Back Better, now known as the Inflation Reduction Act). Just when it looked like holdout Joe Manchin was going to object to anything other than a very narrow health-care bill, if even that, he and Chuck Schumer suddenly unveiled a bigger package including energy investments and tax provisions in addition to the expected Medicare prescription-drug-price negotiation powers and a temporary extension of Obamacare subsidies. Looks like Senate Democrats wrong-footed Mitch McConnell for once, giving the White House an unexpected and much-needed win and providing a tonic for dispirited Democratic troops in the home stretch of the midterm election cycle.

Or not.

Before anyone can take the Manchin-Schumer deal to the bank, there are some other fractious Democrats beyond the West Virginian who will need to sign off. First and foremost is Manchin’s long-time partner in obstruction, the senior senator from Arizona. As Axios puts it: “Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has spent the summer out of the spotlight. That’s now going to change.” And while Manchin’s little red wagons in the yearlong struggle over reconciliation have been anti-inflation measures and propitiating fossil-fuel interests, Sinema has had other priorities:

“We do not have a comment, as she will need to review the text,” a Sinema spokesperson said in the hours after news broke of Manchin’s stunning reversal.

One of the first signs Sinema wasn’t consulted on the Schumer-Manchin agreement was that it included some $14 billion in new revenue from taxing carried interest, which she has indicated she opposes.

Between the lines: Sinema was on record last December supporting the 15% corporate tax rate, which will raise an estimated $313 billion to fund the Democrats’ climate priorities.

But that was before inflation took off and the constant chatter about a potential recession subsumed Washington.

While Sinema may not want to personally kill this heaven-sent deal herself, it would be surprising if she doesn’t take at least a pound of flesh in concessions to show her corporate friends she is still a major player.

An equally big problem could emerge in the House, where New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer has led a small but strategically crucial band of swing-district Democrats. His gang has been tenaciously demanding the restoration of a robust state and local tax (a.k.a. SALT) deduction, which was limited significantly in the Republican-driven 2017 tax-cut legislation. Gottheimer has been quiet about the Manchin-Schumer deal, too:

To Democratic optimists, this may sound as fantastical as Ahab conceding that he might not need to take down Moby Dick after all. But it’s promising. Until a majority is secured in the House, however, it really doesn’t matter how much celebratory backslapping is going on in the upper chamber.

The Senate, moreover, has another problem beyond getting Sinema on board — COVID continues to make it unclear how many senators are available to vote on any given day:

The Senate is trying to clear the reconciliation bill along with several other high-priority pieces of legislation before embarking on a long August recess that is all but a sacred entitlement during election years. It could be a nip and tuck process at best, so Democrats should keep the Champagne on ice for a while longer.

Obstructionist Democrats Could Still Kill the Manchin Deal