Sen. Joe Manchin III just issued a lengthy statement to reporters in which he declared, with great dramatic flourish, that he will not support the Build Back Better social policy bill if it doesn’t meet various specifications, while sternly lecturing progressives in the process. The West Virginia Democrat blasted the package for unspecified fiscal “gimmicks” that, he said, put paying for it in peril.

Manchin also hammered House progressives for failing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already passed the Senate. Progressives are holding out against that to secure commitments from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on the social policy bill, which will pass via the reconciliation process.

“The political games have to stop,” Manchin said, implicitly casting himself as the truly responsible party and the progressives as the antithesis of sober, good-faith governance. In his telling, progressives want to spend too much, won’t pay for it and are irresponsibly holding the infrastructure bill “hostage” to bully him into blessing their fiscal profligacy.

But there’s a profound absurdity to this situation: If Manchin is unhappy with the fiscal balance sheet shaping up for the reconciliation bill, the two people arguably as much to blame for this as anyone are the leading centrists, i.e., Sinema and Manchin.

Manchin insisted to reporters that the reconciliation bill must not “irresponsibly” add to the debt, absurdly insisting that “no one” cares about this. He insisted the package is beset with fiscal “shell games” that will conceal long-term costs that will be out of sync with the revenue raised to cover them.

But let’s remember how we got to this point. Democrats were coalescing around tax reforms that would have raised trillions in new revenue. It was Sinema who killed hikes on corporate and high-income tax rates, which could have netted hundreds of billions in new revenue.

This compelled Democrats to coalesce around some other solutions. One was the billionaires’ tax. Guess who killed that one. Most prominently, the culprit was Manchin (though others were lurking backstage).

Now that the rate hikes and billionaires’ tax are gone, another policy Democrats are considering is a surtax on income over $10 million. All indications are that Manchin and Sinema support this. But it would raise some $230 billion over 10 years — which is good but substantially less than rate hikes would raise.

As a separate matter, a new Forbes analysis finds the surtax might leave some of the most stratospherically rich billionaires largely untouched, because much of their money is in non-income form, whereas the billionaires’ tax would have targeted them. Thanks, Fiscally Responsible Centrists!

Still another solution Democrats are working on would beef up IRS enforcement to go after uncollected revenue of rich tax cheats. But Manchin opposes the provision that would require banks to report account information to the IRS, making collecting that revenue easier.

This is gone from the package, but its proponents say eliminating it will make it easier for wealthy cheating to go undetected, potentially meaning less in collected revenue. Great work, Fiscally Responsible Centrists!

To be fair, Manchin appeared prepared to support the rate hikes that Sinema opposes. But Manchin’s opposition to these other provisions isn’t helping. Take that along with Sinema’s opposition to rate hikes and it’s clear the centrists are the ones pushing us into the very bind Manchin purports to discern.

Ultimately, Manchin can get away with posing as the Most Responsible Man in Washington while casting progressives as the profligate ones — even as the centrists haphazardly chop down our ability to raise revenue — because he knows that baked into our discourse is the absurd premise that less spending and lower taxes are inherently sober and responsible.

This premise doesn’t require justification or any reckoning with the actual tradeoffs it entails. It’s just accepted as truth, making it easier for Manchin’s pose to evade scrutiny.