Senators make last-ditch bid for Manchin’s backing
Democrats and Republicans are competing for Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) attention when it comes to what elements of President Biden’s agenda are still in play ahead of the midterm elections knowing full well Washington will soon move into full-time campaign mode.
While Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is attempting to get Manchin on board with climate change and lower prescription drug price proposals, GOP lawmakers are trying to divert Manchin’s attention toward bipartisan negotiations on gun control and energy legislation — anything to keep the pivotal senator out of the New York Democrat’s office as much as possible.
Schumer is privately trying to negotiate with Manchin on a budget bill that addresses climate change and lowers prescription drug prices all while anti-tax activists are running ads in West Virginia pressing him to reject proposed fiscal increases to fund such Democratic priorities.
“If he gets something within the parameters as he’s discussed it, I think he is a possible ‘yes,’” said Mike Plante, a West Virginia-based Democratic strategist, who noted: “Obviously we’re running out of time here.”
But Plante cautioned that Manchin has set out strict parameters for what kind of package he can support, emphasizing it must reduce the deficit.
“It’s got to be something that comports with his view of what’s appropriate,” he added. “I don’t think there’s a lot of wiggle room for Joe Manchin on what he would find acceptable.
“I think there’s a very narrow path on that. It would have to be something that dealt with prescription drugs, climate, deficit reduction, and didn’t contribute to inflation,” he said.
Mike Lux, a Democratic strategist, said when it comes to the GOP side of things, Republicans are “trying to run out the clock” by pulling Manchin into gun control and energy negotiations and away from spending time on elements of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.
“Republicans don’t want anything serious to pass in terms of the Biden economic agenda so they will do everything they can to run out the clock,” he said.
Lux said it’s critical to pass a budget reconciliation package to get a few more of Biden’s domestic priorities enacted, especially legislation to extend Affordable Care Act subsidies that are due to expire.
“We can’t let those subsidies run out. We got to get some kind of budget bill passed because there’s all kinds of things that are about to run out and all kinds of things that are not adequately funded,” he said.
A group of 26 House Democrats piled more pressure on Manchin and Schumer to strike a deal by penning a letter last month warning that constituents will see a spike in health insurance premiums unless Congress extends premium tax credit enhancements.
“We must make lower out-of-pocket costs and expanded coverage a permanent pillar of our health care system, and reconciliation is our only chance to get this done,” they wrote.
The budget reconciliation instructions will expire at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, and Democratic aides say it will take weeks to draft the legislation and vet it with the Senate parliamentarian.
Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative anti-tax group, is pressing Manchin from the other side by running a “six-figure” radio advertising campaign in West Virginia highlighting the price of gas and warning that “any tax hikes would be a disaster for America.”
“Americans aren’t stupid. They know tax increase on energy are passed on to them, and the economy is getting worse,” the ad’s narrator says.
Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, noted that Manchin improved his job approval rating in West Virginia by 17 points by standing up against Biden’s agenda and argued he would risk those gains by now supporting a budget reconciliation package after months of resistance.
He said that even if Manchin manages to substantially reduce the size of the budget reconciliation package, he’ll still take heat in West Virginia for helping to enact key pieces of Biden’s domestic economic agenda, especially if the package includes tax hikes.
“He promised to be a different kind of Democrat,” Norquist said. “Does he want to be the guy who sicced the IRS on people and businesses in West Virginia? Stick with the program with where you were and who you told the people of West Virginia.”
“Look at your polling data, look at how well you’re doing. Why would you throw that away?” he argued. “Does he want his reputation, or does he want some money for specific interests in West Virginia? He can have one or the other, but not both.”
Plante, the West Virginia-based strategist, however, said a pressure campaign by an outside interest group in Manchin’s backyard isn’t likely to work.
“The worst strategy to adopt if you want to persuade Manchin on something is to attack him and attack him unfairly, and I think they’re shooting themselves in the foot,” he said.
Schumer has left his Senate Democratic colleagues mostly in the dark about what’s happening in his talks with Manchin.
Schumer met with Manchin at least twice in his office before the Memorial Day recess, and the Democratic leader says he’s not giving up on locking down Manchin’s vote.
Manchin has given Democrats’ hope by saying that “at a minimum” Congress should be able to pass prescription drug reform.
Speaking at an AARP event in West Virginia on Tuesday, Manchin said Democrats must pass legislation to lower prescription drug prices before the midterm elections.
“The drug pricing is something we all agree on. If we do nothing else this year — I think we can do a lot more — but if we do nothing more this year, that’s one thing that must be done,” he said.
Manchin gave Democrats more cause for hope last week while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, telling a panel “I believe there’s an opportunity” to pass meaningful legislation to pay down the debt, reform prescription drug costs and address climate change.
Democratic strategists say getting just a few pieces of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda enacted would give a major boost to vulnerable Democratic candidates in the November elections.
Schumer “is looking at it in the sense this is a piece of legislation that can help American voters and also help some of senators and candidates in very tough races,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist and former Senate leadership aide.
Mollineau said Republican attempts to engage Manchin on gun control and energy legislation won’t necessarily keep him too busy to also negotiate a budget reconciliation agreement before the August recess, which starts Aug. 6.
Jim Kessler, the executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, said Manchin may want to cut a deal with Schumer because he recognizes his influence as the most pivotal vote in a 50-50 Senate isn’t likely to last past the midterm elections.
Republicans are favored to pick up the House and Democrats are likely to either pick up another Senate seat, increasing their majority, or lose control of the chamber to Republicans.
“He’s at peak influence right now. The leverage he has is likely going to disappear in the next Congress. There’s something that he wants, which is deficit reduction,” Kessler said. “I imagine that no matter what happens in the next Congress he’ll find a way to be involved, but the one-on-one meetings with the leader and the president probably go by the wayside.
“If he wants to have a major legislative impact, it’s in the next couple months, and who knows when the next window comes.”