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Opinion Biden is taking the right approach to the latest Manchin clash

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) at the Capitol on July 14. (Tom Williams/Pool/AP)

When Democrats embarked this summer on developing a dramatically scaled-down version of the economic package once dubbed Build Back Better, they had decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This week, they faced another challenge: not to let the good become the enemy of the just okay.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) announced on Thursday that he could not support a bill containing spending to ward off climate change or tax increases on the wealthy and corporations — despite expectations, following his extended negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that a deal was imminent. The culprit behind this turnabout appeared to be the latest inflation numbers, which prompted the senator to declare that approving more taxes and more spending at this moment was “not prudent.” Mr. Manchin insisted he was still at the table; he was just waiting until next month, and the next round of data, to dig in. After that, he’d consider some form of climate response, and some additional taxation, though whether he and his party could agree on the particulars was uncertain.

President Biden, perhaps having learned a lesson or two from the December dissolution of Build Back Better, was quick to respond: Mr. Manchin had said he was comfortable moving forward this month on prescription drug pricing reform and an extension of soon-to-expire subsidies for low- and middle-income people on Affordable Care Act health exchanges. Democrats, he said, should “get it to my desk so I can sign it.” The White House, meanwhile, would take executive action on climate. This was the right approach for a leader in a tough spot. Democrats are running out of time as the midterms approach to pass a bill under the filibuster-bypassing budget process known as reconciliation. They faced two bad choices: risk getting nothing on climate and taxes, or risk getting nothing at all.

The worst thing Democrats could have done, and the worst thing they could do now, is allow their frustrations over Mr. Manchin’s erratic swings to lead to deal-dashing acrimony. The loss of legislative progress on climate would be worse than unfortunate; a spike in inflation today is a poor reason to doom cities to rising sea levels tomorrow. Yet the expiration of the enhanced ACA subsidies would also be catastrophic — saddling the 13 million Americans enrolled in the marketplaces with exploding costs that many of them may not be able to afford. Changes to drug pricing, similarly, are smart policy and politics alike. Democrats must keep fighting for rules and incentives that will curb global warming, whether those come from Congress or the White House. But they should also take care as they do it not to end up fighting against themselves.

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Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).