Whither Joe Manchin? Apparently the slipperiness of his earlier comments has forced Manchin to speak more plainly about the filibuster. Late yesterday, Manchin wrote a Washington Post op-ed that declared he would not support any changes to the filibuster, arguing that every change made to it over the last decade has only made matters worse:
It’s no accident that a state as small as West Virginia has the same number of senators as California or Texas. It goes to the heart of what representative government is all about. The Founding Fathers understood that the challenges facing a rural or small state would always be very different from a more populous state. Designating each state with the same number of senators — regardless of the population — ensured that rural and small states and the Americans who live in them would always have a seat at the table.
The filibuster is a critical tool to protecting that input and our democratic form of government. That is why I have said it before and will say it again to remove any shred of doubt: There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster. The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship where we find common ground on the major policy debates facing our nation. …
Every time the Senate voted to weaken the filibuster in the past decade, the political dysfunction and gridlock have grown more severe. The political games playing out in the halls of Congress only fuel the hateful rhetoric and violence we see across our country right now. The truth is, my Democratic friends do not have all the answers and my Republican friends do not, either. This has always been the case.
Great argument, but will Joe Manchin stick to it? Perhaps Kyrsten Sinema’s robust argument earlier this week against changes to the filibuster firmed up Manchin’s intestinal fortitude. Manchin has made similar arguments in the past, but then turned around and offered at least the possibility of expanding reconciliation to essentially gut the filibuster. If that happened, then suddenly demanding 67 votes for a rule change to the filibuster is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
But perhaps Manchin has gotten fed up with playing nice with progressives among the Senate’s Democrats. Later in the piece, Manchin explicitly blasts the use of reconciliation as a dodge for doing the hard work of collaboration with the minority:
Unfortunately, our leaders in the Senate fail to realize what goes around comes around. We should all be alarmed at how the budget reconciliation process is being used by both parties to stifle debate around the major issues facing our country today. Legislating was never supposed to be easy. It is hard work to address the needs of both rural and urban communities in a single piece of legislation, but it is the work we were elected to do. …
If the filibuster is eliminated or budget reconciliation becomes the norm, a new and dangerous precedent will be set to pass sweeping, partisan legislation that changes the direction of our nation every time there is a change in political control. The consequences will be profound — our nation may never see stable governing again.
That’s going to be a problem for Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer, who just got permission to push through the $2 trillion infrastructure bill on reconciliation. Or did they? Politico’s Caitlin Emma reports that Democrats in the Senate aren’t actually sure what the parliamentarian’s ruling means:
Days later, congressional aides and budget experts — including some who have seen the actual ruling — are still confused about the decision from the Senate parliamentarian, the chamber’s behind-the-scenes rules referee. Enough issues remain unresolved that it’s still not clear what the ruling means for President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure and jobs agenda, in addition to long-held Democratic priorities such as immigration that could get roped into the budget debate. The parliamentarian typically keeps its views under wraps, and they came up only briefly in a Monday night announcement from a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. …
Senate Republican aides with firsthand knowledge of the parliamentarian’s decision said it isn’t clear what legislative priorities Democrats could pass with a possible extra shot at reconciliation, or even whether the ruling would limit Democrats’ use of their second attempt. The parliamentarian’s opinion also doesn’t specify whether such action is even allowable this fiscal year, or whether any party would have the freedom to unlock unlimited opportunities to use reconciliation.
One House Democratic lawmaker observed that the party “can put as much into one reconciliation bill as we can into two,” questioning the practical advantage of Schumer exercising the new power he appears to have earned.
“I think Schumer’s on very solid ground on allowing us to revise the budget resolution, but I’m not sure what that accomplishes for us,” this Democrat said, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity.
This confusion over an arcane ruling might have fueled Manchin’s desire to write his declaration in the Post. It also might mean that Schumer’s win is strictly academic; if Manchin’s not going to come along on reconciliation, then it won’t pass in the first place.
One has to wonder whether Sinema would cooperate with it either, as her opposition to filibuster changes rests on the same principle that Manchin finally articulates in this op-ed. Sinema wants collaboration in regular order rather than bill-writing limited to the majority, as does Manchin: “I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate.” Schumer got the one reconciliation package pushed through because it was predicated on the emergency of a pandemic. That may be as far as Manchin or Sinema will go with that process, especially if the parliamentarian’s ruling is too arcane to figure out.
Of course, the test of this newfound fortitude will come very soon. Manchin has campaigned for massive infrastructure spending for years, and this is the closest he’s gotten to it. Will Manchin be able to keep his principled stand even if it kills his dream bill? I’d love to rely on Manchin’s honor, but … stay tuned.