The West Virginia Democrat on Wednesday announced a surprise deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to revive much of President Joe Biden’s domestic policy agenda.
“It was obviously a double-cross by Joe Manchin,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Fox News Wednesday evening. “Just two weeks ago, he said he wasn’t going to support a bill like this.”
So much for the love affair between Manchin and Republicans, who frequently praised him for refusing to support various high-profile Democratic proposals. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has even mused about Manchin joining the Grand Old Party.
Republicans are especially upset because in June, McConnell vowed Republicans would block Senate passage of an unrelated bill subsidizing the U.S. semiconductor computer chip industry if Democrats tried to revive their agenda through the Senate’s “budget reconciliation” process.
Two weeks ago, after the latest bad inflation reading, Manchin gave his colleagues the impression he wouldn’t support such a bill. So when the Senate passed the chips bill Wednesday, with 17 Republicans voting yes, it had seemed like the reconciliation bill was dead. But then, hours later, Manchin announced it was back with a new name: The Inflation Reduction Act.
Manchin said Thursday that he wasn’t trying to pull one over on Republicans. Rather, he and Schumer had actually been negotiating all along and were aiming to finish the bill before the Senate goes on recess August 6th.
“There was no malice intended whatsoever,” Manchin told reporters Thursday. “We had a bill that was almost completed, we were able to get it completed by Wednesday, so because of Wednesday, that means we can go into reconciliation by next Wednesday and be done before we leave on the 6th.”
The timeline might be optimistic, because Democrats still need the Senate parliamentarian to rule that the bill’s various provisions are eligible for reconciliation, which allows bills to pass the Senate with just 50 votes instead of 60, meaning Democrats can bypass Republicans. It’s possible a final vote could slip to the weekend.
The Inflation Reduction Act is less ambitious than the Build Back Better bill it’s replacing, but still a substantive piece of legislation. Among other things it would subsidize green energy to the tune of more than $300 billion, allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, cap out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000 per year, and reduce the federal budget deficit by more than $300 billion thanks partly to increased IRS enforcement, according to a summary from Manchin’s office.
Even if Manchin and Schumer deliberately waited to make their announcement until after the chips bill had passed, it wouldn’t be much of a double-cross if Manchin had not made any commitment to Republicans not to support a Democratic bill ― which he hadn’t.
Still, Republicans are acting like they got stabbed in the back, and after Manchin’s announcement, leaders in the House started urging members to vote against the Senate-passed chips bill. A source told HuffPost earlier this week that as many as 30 Republicans would support the measure.
“I just thought it was bad faith,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
On Wednesday evening, Republicans voted against a bill to aid veterans harmed by burn pits in foreign wars, even though they’d supported it before in a procedural vote. Ostensibly, Republicans objected to the amendment process for the bill, but several Democrats have said it’s retaliation.
“Republicans now are basically holding the veterans hostage because they’re mad,” Manchin said. “This is wrong.”
Manchin also lamented that last year, progressive Democrats briefly refused to support a bipartisan infrastructure bill because they wanted assurances Congress would first pass Build Back Better. He said the Infrastructure Reduction Act ought to be bipartisan.
“We’ve become so dysfunctional,” Manchin said. “My Republicans friends, these are all so good people, and they’re friends of mine, but they get wrapped up in thinking ‘Well, we’ve got to be against something because it might make the other side look good.’”
Cotton, for his part, was not persuaded by Manchin’s argument that he’s just trying to get a bill done by recess.
“I’m sure Joe’s story will change,” Cotton told HuffPost. “As it always does.”