One of the many great scenes in the 1983 classic A Christmas Story involves young Ralphie running into the house to decode a secret radio message with his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. After quickly and studiously decoding the broadcast he hears over the radio, young Ralphie is left dejected after finding out the message was nothing more than a commercial telling him to drink more Ovaltine.
That’s about where Democrats and the Biden administration are after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin declared that he was a “No” vote on the president’s Build Back Better legislation, which passed the House and now dies in the Senate. Young Ralphie stormed out of his bathroom after decoding the simple message. National Democrats are having a national tantrum to rival any child.
It’s hard to argue with Manchin’s reasoning. In a statement, he said:
For five and a half months, I have worked as diligently as possible meeting with President Biden, Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and my colleagues on every end of the political spectrum to determine the best path forward despite my serious reservations. I have made my concerns clear through public statements, op-eds and private conversations. My concerns have only increased as the pandemic surges on, inflation rises and geopolitical uncertainty increases around the world.
Manchin isn’t lying about any of these points. We know this because he and Schumer signed an agreement over the summer when BBB was in the early planning stages. At the time, Democrats were throwing around numbers between $6-8 trillion. Manchin’s signed agreement with Schumer placed his topline number no higher than $1.5 trillion, with other provisions.
We’ve got reports detailing every part of the negotiating process from summer through winter, and Manchin never wavered on that point. But if you pop in and look at the Democratic Party, you find the exact opposite. They all believed Manchin would change or that he was bluffing.
Manchin, to his credit, stuck his guns and never wavered.
And now Democrats are storming around in failure, acting as if the rug got pulled out from under them. The White House led the charge, accusing Manchin of duplicity and calling him everything but a liar to his face. They said:
Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances. … If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.
It is a bizarre statement. It reads like a scorned lover going full scorched earth in an attempt to say, “You can’t break up with me. I’m breaking up with you!” It’s not a message a president would send if the White House anticipated working with that senator ever again.
Whereas Manchin has long been amenable to discussions and working on things, the White House explicitly set out to blister Manchin and burn every bridge they may have had with him.
And when the White House opened the door to those kinds of attacks, the rest of the Democratic Party followed suit. The angriest were House moderates, who were forced to walk the plank on this legislation by Nancy Pelosi and will have to deal with the backlash from constituents without a single benefit from the bill existing.
The man sitting in the best position of all? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In October, I noted that McConnell was playing the long game with Manchin and fellow Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. McConnell and Republicans made the dicey decision to vote with Democrats to extend the debt ceiling temporarily.
McConnell did that in conjunction with private discussions with Manchin and Sinema. His actions prevented any movement on the filibuster, giving Manchin and Sinema more wiggle room. Today, he’s watching the Democrats go into total meltdown over the defeat of BBB.
I said in October, “As an act of policy, [extending the debt ceiling] vote didn’t matter. As an act of politics, McConnell continues to prove he’s the only one thinking long-term, while everyone else is playing catch-up.” And I noted:
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will measure the next two months in dog years, not days. And they’ll get to do that with a president who is continuing to sink in approval polls. Two more months of infighting start…now.
McConnell’s gambit has paid out even better than he could have planned. Democrats leave the year with nothing on the BBB front, which Biden had built up as his signature legislation. Now, Politico is publishing headlines about an administration in chaos.
Democrats may try to salvage this legislation by playing small-ball and passing smaller pieces of the Build Back Better package with Manchin’s support. There’s some indication they may try to take that route in 2022. But the environment they’ll be in next year — as Biden’s numbers continue to flag, and as Republicans appear poised to retake Congress in the midterms — it’s not an environment conducive to cutting deals in a fractured Democratic Party.
Manchin told Democrats upfront what he wanted. Democrats decided to believe that was a secret coded message. It wasn’t.
Merry Christmas to all! Drink your Ovaltine.