The message is that if Republicans reject this, it should be unavoidably clear that Republicans are beyond hope as a governing partner on any terms that Manchin himself would find acceptable. If so, it’s time to move to passage of a bill via the simple majority “reconciliation” process. But that’s not all: If this is so, it’s also time to seriously debate reforming the filibuster.
Biden’s latest offer is a more dramatic move toward Republicans than anything they have offered. The last proposal from Republicans was for $928 billion, but much of that was existing baseline spending. Only $257 billion was new spending.
Worse, the new GOP spending is funded by repurposed covid-19 rescue funds. Other Republicans have suggested a gas tax hike or user fees, which are regressive and nonstarters for Democrats.
Biden’s new offer, meanwhile, is for $1 trillion. Importantly, all that is new money on top of baseline spending, a source familiar with the offer tells me.
Biden’s offer also sticks to his insistence on paying for the plan with corporate tax hikes, according to CNN and Politico. This is good: While Biden is being flexible on spending levels, by drawing a hard line on pay-fors, he’s suggesting he’s prepared to see Democrats act without Republicans — by reconciliation.
And so, if Biden keeps slashing his plan’s spending levels to win Republicans while keeping the pay-for Manchin wants — and Republicans still don’t budge — at what point does Manchin realize Republicans will never support anything close to what Manchin himself wants?
To be clear, Biden would obviously like it if 10 Senate Republicans did support his new proposal. He could then announce bipartisan support for a targeted infrastructure package — one focused on roads, bridges and broadband — then pursue a second package with other priorities (green technology, caregiving infrastructure, etc.) via reconciliation later.
But plainly, Biden does not expect 10 Republicans to support this offer. The key nuance here is that Manchin wants to persuasively argue — to his constituents and to himself — that a real effort to win them over was made. If this doesn’t do it, what will?
The bigger question is this: How many times must Democrats be led down rabbit holes in search of GOP support that never materializes before Manchin accepts that in a fundamental sense, the bipartisan possibilities he dreams of are simply gone?
The filibuster favors Republicans
Those who find that prospect terrifying often equate it with the horror of partisan majorities passing things, followed by a switch in power and a partisan swing back the other way. As Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) puts it, the filibuster protects democracy “rather than allowing our country to ricochet wildly every two to four years.”
But that’s absurd: We already live in that country. When Republicans had total control in 2017 and 2018, they didn’t hesitate to use reconciliation to try to jam through Obamacare repeal (they failed) and to pass massive tax cuts for corporations and the rich, both on partisan lines.
Manchin and Sinema want us to believe the filibuster preserves a country in which the parties are incentivized to cooperate on an even policy playing field. But the real question is whether they will consign us to a future in which that playing field is dramatically tilted toward Republican priorities.
This is spelled out in a well-argued piece by Ira Shapiro, a staffer to then-Sen. Robert Byrd of Manchin’s home state. As Shapiro notes, one dirty secret of the filibuster is it creates serious imbalances between things that can pass via reconciliation and things that can’t:
There is no convincing rationale for establishing two classes of legislative action. It should be unacceptable that the $2.1 trillion tax cut in 2017 or the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act could be done by majority vote (through reconciliation) but that 60 votes are required before helping the Dreamers, requiring background checks for guns, combating climate change or protecting the right to vote.
This privileges the party that cares less about legislating. Because Republicans are most obsessed with cutting taxes, they can carry out their most urgent priority by simple majority, even as many core priorities Democrats want to address require a supermajority.
Perhaps Manchin is content with this situation. If those things could be done by simple majority, he’d be a deciding vote on them, putting him in a tough position. But if so, that rationale has nothing in common with the fantasy rationale filibuster defenders are offering.
If Manchin eventually accepts that Republicans will not be a willing partner on pretty much anything, he’ll have to deal more forthrightly with those basic truths. Until then, Democrats will have to keep sending that message about Republicans in whatever ways are available.