Manchin’s ‘intervention’ may have saved the Democratic Party — for now

Madeline Monroe

One definition of an intervention is when one or more people become actively involved in an effort to prevent a person or group from engaging in self-destructive behavior. That’s what Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), with an assist from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), just did for the Democratic Party. Here’s how.

Manchin demonstrated that a “moderate” Democrat can still make a difference. There was a time when the Democratic Party had serious, thoughtful statesmen, such as Sens. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas and Sam Nunn of Georgia, who were considered moderates. And they weren’t pariahs but respected and valued leaders of the party.

Today’s Democratic Party is largely captive to progressives, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who ironically isn’t even a Democrat. And the small number of Democrats who lean more moderate, or at least less progressive, are often shamed into backing the progressive agenda, or they’re primaried by progressives to get them out of office.

But Manchin is probably the only Democrat these days who can win a statewide election in West Virginia, which voted for Donald Trump in 2020 by nearly 40 points. The political threat in his state is from the right, not the left.

Manchin may have wanted to get to “yes” on a more limited version of Build Back Better (he is a Democrat after all), but progressives had their own limits.

By killing Build Back Better (BBB), Manchin demonstrated that less-progressive Democrats can still have an impact if they are willing to stand up to progressives. And that may give other more moderate Democrats, and the moderate Democratic electorate who voted for them, the courage to stop progressives from driving the country off a fiscal cliff.

He protected the Senate’s tradition of being a deliberative body. The framers of the Constitution envisioned the Senate as being a more deliberative body and at least somewhat less susceptible to the political whims of the moment.

Progressives have worked for decades to change that so that every branch of the federal government, including the Supreme Court, is subject to the latest political or economic fad. But the Senate filibuster limits progressives’ ability to do that, so ending it has become one of their top priorities. But both Manchin and Sinema opposed ending the Senate filibuster.

Even though many progressives are harshly criticizing Manchin now, the day will come (perhaps in 2022 or 2024) when Republicans control the Senate once again. And Senate Democrats will once again defend the filibuster, as they have done in the past. And perhaps they’ll even thank Manchin and Sinema for being able to see past the end of the progressive wish list.

He may have reduced Biden’s culpability for rising inflation. Many economists – including prominent Democratic economists Larry Summers and Jason Furman – blame Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for fueling inflation. Democrats doled out hundreds of billions of dollars to individuals, many of whom didn’t need the money, likely increasing consumer demand at a time when supply-chain constraints couldn’t meet that demand. And so we have the worst inflation in decades.

Polls consistently show that inflation is one of the public’s top concerns. Yet Biden’s BBB, like his American Rescue Plan, would have begun doling out hundreds of billions of dollars to individuals again, almost certainly making inflation much worse.

Voters are going to blame Biden for inflation, and he will try to dodge that blame as he has for all of his many policy missteps. But by killing BBB, that inflation may not be as bad or last as long as it otherwise would, limiting the economic – and maybe the political – damage.

He may have reduced the hit Democrats will likely take in the 2022 midterms. Polls and predictions of the coming 2022 midterm elections look terrible for Democrats. And BBB would likely have made it worse.

Biden and Democrats have been tone-deaf to what voters have been saying. And the best example was Virginia’s elections last November. Voters want the coronavirus pandemic effectively addressed, they want their kids back in school, they are concerned about crime and they are very worried about inflation.

But progressives have largely dismissed those concerns and criticized the public for not being more interested in Democrats’ efforts to vastly expand the entitlement state and spend more money than any administration in history. Ending BBB gives Democrats a chance to revamp their strategy and turn to what the voters really care about.

Will they seize that opportunity? Probably not. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is promising to bring up BBB again and again next year until something passes.

But at least Manchin’s intervention has saved the Democratic Party from self-destructing — even if that intervention turns out to be short-lived.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez American Rescue Plan Act Bernie Sanders Build Back Better Chuck Schumer Democratic Party Democratic Party Donald Trump Filibuster in the United States Senate Jason Furman Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Kyrsten Sinema Presidency of Joe Biden

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