Some unusually grating new things just happened. But because this is how the process works, you can squint at the messy pile of sausage filling and see signs of progress.
On Thursday, we learned that this summer, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) signed a document that laid out what Manchin would tolerate in the reconciliation bill. It limited spending to $1.5 trillion over ten years rather than the $3.5 trillion supported by President Biden and other Democrats.
Some details are reasonable (“Raise the top rate on income: 39.6%”) and others are disturbing (“Fuel neutral,” which seems to mean Manchin wants the bill to do as much to promote fossil fuels as renewables). It’s galling, to be sure, that someone with these priorities wields such enormous influence over the legislative outcome and, by extension, over our future.
But at the very least, in this Manchin did offer a place to start from. That suggests a deal is possible.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sinema’s office released a curt, defensive statement responding to intensifying criticism of her refusal to specify what she can accept in reconciliation. “Biden and his team, along with Senator Schumer and his team, are fully aware of Senator Sinema’s priorities, concerns, and ideas,” it said, offering no details and adding, “we do not negotiate through the press.”
Here again it’s galling that Sinema is being so snide after stringing everyone along in bad faith for so long. But if what she says is true, it means that very real negotiations are taking place. Put these comments together and we have some reason to believe that we’re moving — albeit slowly — toward the destination of a bill.
Here’s another thing about the sausage-making process we’re seeing. If the House fails to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the vote scheduled for Thursday, guess what? It won’t actually be a disaster.
Politico reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is determined to hold that vote, and is working behind the scenes to corral support to get the infrastructure bill passed. But progressives are threatening to withhold their votes as leverage to get Manchin, Sinema and House centrists to agree to a framework for the reconciliation bill. Which would seem to be standing in Pelosi’s way.
And yet, House progressives talked to reporters Thursday and the thrust of their message was that they are not feeling intense pressure to vote for the bill. They were adamant that the infrastructure bill won’t have the votes, and as Arthur Delaney reports, some Democrats expect Pelosi to postpone the vote.
Indeed, the progressives even hinted that Democratic leaders tacitly want them to be out there threatening to vote no.
How to reconcile these things? The most likely explanation is that Pelosi is doing a clever balancing act: She is outwardly pushing hard on the idea that she will hold the vote, to keep Manchin, Sinema and centrists (who want it to pass) happy. At the same time, the prospect that progressives will sink the infrastructure bill helps ratchet up pressure on Manchin and Sinema to agree to a reconciliation framework.
What Pelosi wants is to put pressure on everyone: It will be the best of all possible worlds if the centrists do agree to a framework that progressives can accept, and then they agree to help pass the infrastructure bill.
We don’t know how this will turn out. But if the infrastructure vote fails, or if it’s postponed, that’s just fine. Bills have been known to fail and get brought back and pass. A postponement would mean more room for negotiating the reconciliation bill, making that more likely to succeed.
Regardless, it finally seems that Manchin and Sinema understand that the time has come to put their cards on the table. As unsightly as those cards are, that might mean progress.
It’s perfectly justified to feel disgusted with the process. And there will likely be reason to be substantively disappointed in the final bill’s outcome — if we get this far, which is anything but guaranteed. To get the centrists on board, the reconciliation package will have to come down in size, probably a lot, and important priorities will be jettisoned.
But if you look past the awful smells and unsettling sounds of grinding cartilage and bone and indeterminate filler, you might just notice that the sausage is on its way to being made.
Is it ugly? You bet. It was never going to be otherwise.