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It is known as “paying the fiddler”.
There are ledgers in life. Balances. Harvested rewards. Assessed sanctions. Fines imposed. Prices paid.
We all get our various dues.
Such accounting records are kept in the policy. Voters keep track. Journalists document such things. And so do politicians when it comes to the political capital of their colleagues.
Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.V., found himself paying the fiddler this week.
Senate Republicans cashed in a political lien they had against Manchin in recent days. And Manchin may not have realized it, but liberal Democrats cashed in on a political mortgage they took out of the West Virginia Democrat in 2021.
Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., shocked the political world in late July. The duo announced an agreement on an elusive social spending plan.
Manchin effectively torpedoed President Biden’s massive “Build Back Better” move in December of last year. That earned Manchin the ire of progressives and the applause of Republicans. Manchin said the bill was spending too much, especially at a time of skyrocketing inflation. Manchin pushed for cheaper prescription drugs and deficit reduction.
Most thought that the hallmark of the Democrats’ social agenda had all but evaporated. That’s why the Schumer/Manchin alert in July shook everyone.
Within weeks, House and Senate Democrats coalesced around a much smaller package than Build Back Better. The plan addressed health care, climate, and included deficit reduction. Democrats dubbed the bill the “Inflation Reduction Act” (IRA), though some doubted the measure would ever address inflation.
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But dealing with inflation brought Manchin on board. And, in a 50-50 Senate, Democrats couldn’t have passed the IRA without Manchin’s vote.
Democrats publicly embraced Manchin, for now. But privately, many progressives were furious with Manchin. They believe Manchin took advantage of them and his hesitation almost unraveled Biden’s agenda.
Democratic bad memories of Manchin did not immediately dissipate.
But what few knew when Manchin reached an agreement with Schumer is that they made a separate deal. Manchin knew the next big fight on Capitol Hill would be a stopgap funding bill to prevent a government shutdown this fall. Then Manchin extracted a promise from Schumer. In exchange for his vote for the IRA, Schumer agreed to include in this fall’s spending package a plan to speed up energy permits and approve a major oil pipeline for Manchin.
The republicans were apoplectic because Manchin abandoned his position and finally supported the IRA.
“Your voters will hold you accountable on this issue,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.C., warned Manchin in August. “You are supposed to get special treatment for some pipelines in West Virginia in the Continuing Resolution to fund the government. I will not vote for a Continuing Resolution that is part of a political recovery scheme.”
A “Continuing Resolution” or “CR” is a band-aid spending package to prevent a government shutdown.
Congress reconvened a few weeks ago with only one major “to do” item on its agenda: funding the government by September 30. But most lawmakers were unaware of the details of the Manchin deal. No one really knew what exactly the deal between Manchin and Schumer was. Fox is told that many Democrats doubted Manchin’s plan would remain in the bill.
“It’s all up for discussion,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said when asked about the Manchin/Schumer deal. “Let’s see what happens. We’re going to keep the government open. And we’ll see what happens.”
Schumer was silent on the details of the Manchin arrangement. But the New York Democrat insisted that Manchin’s provision would appear in the spending bill.
“Our intention is to add it to the CR,” Schumer said on Sept. 7 when asked by reporters about the status of the Manchin language. “Absolutely.”
Environmental activists and progressive Democrats spoke increasingly about Manchin’s permitting plan as the month progressed. He politely asked Schumer on Sept. 13 if he was surprised by the left’s outrage over his pact with Manchin.
“The permit agreement is part of the IRA agreement,” Schumer said. “I’m going to add it to the CR and it will pass.”
I continued with Schumer on September 20. I asked if there would be “any circumstance” in which Schumer would remove the Manchin language from the CR. I pointed out that Schumer promised for “two weeks” to keep the provision in the spending package. “
“I’ll say it for two weeks and one day,” Schumer replied.
But it was doubtful that Manchin would have the votes.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., formally announced his opposition to the plan.
“I never expected Bernie Sanders, on the far left, to be in favor of any permits,” Manchin said on Fox News on Sunday. “What we’re dealing with and a toxic political atmosphere.”
However, other Democrats expressed their own reservations. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., had a problem with how the bill would greenlight Manchin’s pet project without proper environmental reviews.
“I’m not opposed to the Mountain Valley pipeline,” Kaine said. “I don’t think Congress should be in the business of approving pipelines or rejecting them.”
But Manchin had the help of the Republicans. Democrats said Republicans didn’t want to help Manchin since he eventually relented to support his party’s spending package.
“They don’t want to give Joe Manchin any reward,” said Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Republicans seemed to enjoy watching Manchin squirm.
“I just don’t know if Joe is going to be able to get this through or not,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-Los Angeles. “He’s my friend and he’s a smart politician. You know, he made a deal without having all the ducks lined up. I’m not even sure they know where the ducks are right now.”
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, invited moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, who is Manchin’s partner, to speak at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center.
Sinema voted for the IRA in August. But McConnell congratulated the Arizona Democrat for not wanting to nullify the filibuster.
“Kyrsten Sinema had to have a lot of guts to stand up and say ‘I’m not going to break the institution to achieve short-term goals,'” McConnell said.
The Kentucky Republican showered Sinema with lavish praise.
“She is, in my opinion … the most effective first-term senator I have seen in my time in the Senate,” McConnell said. “A genuine moderate and a negotiator.”
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Back in Washington, Manchin continued to work on the phones for his plan. But Manchin couldn’t agree to make his deal work.
McConnell lambasted GOP members against the Manchin provision, calling it a “false fig leaf.” Bipartisan senators signaled they would back CR to avert a government shutdown this week, but only if leaders remove Manchin’s plan from the bill. Manchin was 60 votes short of overcoming a filibuster. And late Tuesday afternoon, Manchin relented.
The Senate cleared a filibuster a couple of hours later with more than 70 yeses.
“I just think when this deal was struck, about two months ago, there was never any real understanding or plan on how the second half of this was going to be done,” said Senate Minority Leader John Thune, RS .D. “And I think Joe found out today.”
For more than a year and a half, Republicans got what they wanted: Manchin’s opposition to Build Back Better. Manchin frustrated his fellow Democrats during that same period. Then, in late July, Manchin secured what the wanted: a lean version of the Democrats’ welfare spending package. And the Democrats got some of what they wanted.
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But Manchin wanted two more things: simplified permitting and the Mountain Valley pipeline.
The Liberal Democrats didn’t want that. And they didn’t need Manchin after they passed the IRA.
This is known as paying the fiddler.
There are balances. Bills are due. Prices paid.
A surprisingly simple equation on Capitol Hill.