So says Politico, which reports today that it’s game-on again between Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin on the reconciliation bill formerly known as Build Back Better. “It’s tight as hell,” said one unnamed Senate Democrat of the timeline as Schumer tries to spend even more money while inflation rages before the midterms. The recent negotiations over firearms and mental health have acted as a smokescreen, intentional or not, as Manchin apparently is getting what he wants out of the reconciliation bill:

Senate Democrats are preparing for possible summer action on their still-elusive climate, tax reform and prescription drugs bill, grinding behind the scenes on a new version during high-profile gun safety talks.

With much of Washington’s attention on guns, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) met twice this week on a potential party-line package. There’s more afoot: Schumer and his staff are working with the Senate parliamentarian to help tee up a possible July or August vote. And a prominent Democratic pollster has tested how popular major components of a hypothetical bill would be in Senate battleground states.

The talks could all fall apart, of course, just as they did in December when Manchin rejected a $1.75 trillion, White House-blessed plan. Any bill advanced this summer would be much slimmer than that one, focusing on lowering drug costs, reducing the deficit, raising taxes on the wealthy and boosting energy sources both clean and domestic.

It’s not everything Democrats want, and they may have to take Manchin’s terms in the heat of the midterm campaign season or face another rejection from the mercurial centrist. But with its work deep into the calendar, the party is putting a new spin on an old saying: Build Back Better Late Than Never.

Cute nickname. Let’s use BBB(LTN) as a shortcut, in fact, because it perfectly describes the desperation behind the effort to add this parenthesis to an election cycle about practically everything else that matters to voters.

Color me a little skeptical on this, for that reason among others. Manchin has to have heard the praise heaped on him this past week for holding the line on spending, even from some quarters that argued vehemently to pass Build Back Better in its original form a year ago. On MSNBC, for instance, Joe Scarborough and former Obama adviser Steve Rattner reacted to this week’s CPI numbers. “You almost have to thank Joe Manchin for stopping that,” Rattner said on Tuesday morning about the $6 trillion BBB obstruction:

Even if the BBB(LTN) bill ends up significantly lower than the $1.8 trillion that Manchin previously set as his ceiling, it’s still extra spending, which is the last thing America needs as the Fed clamps down on access to loans to contain inflation. In fact, this spending will now come at a higher interest cost than previous deficit spending. Furthermore, the issues in the bill do little to help Democrats in the midterms anyway. It’s still a climate-change bill, combined with some marginal deficit reduction, in a political environment where voters want gas prices and electricity costs to come down now and not in 2035. Prescription-drug reform (assuming it survives the Manchin process) may sell well in theory, but health care in general isn’t in the top five issues on the minds of voters in the midterm.

Besides, how many times has the media floated the “BBB is still alive” narrative? How many times has Politico floated it, only to find out that nothing’s changed at all?

However, the insinuation that Democrats are using the gun talks as a sleight-of-hand to get a BBB(LTN) reconciliation bill passed is intriguing in every sense of the word:

Republicans are nonetheless getting worried, particularly with the gun debate taking up so much oxygen in Washington. One GOP aide fretted that Democrats “are using the debate on gun control as a distraction from their work to jam through” a smaller version of Build Back Better.

Another ominous sign for the GOP: Manchin-led bipartisan energy negotiations have ceased, leaving a party-line approach as the best option for the moderate senator.

Democrats said they’re not intentionally hiding the negotiations, but conceded that Washington’s focus on firearms does allow the reconciliation discussions to unfold with less scrutiny.

I’m not sure that matters much, since neither bill will do much for either party in the end. Biden seems convinced that all he needs is his BBB in some form to recover his standing with voters, but again that ignores what voters themselves say are the important issues at the moment: inflation, gas prices, crime, and in the southern part of the US, the border crisis. Neither bill speaks to those issues, which means that the best either party can get out of them is a temporary bump that will last as long as it takes for voters to try to gas up or go grocery shopping. The notion of a smokescreen might end up derailing the gun talks, though, if John Cornyn believes he’s getting played. (Allahpundit has more on that in the next post.)

Maybe this effort might have worked before this week’s inflation numbers and the Fed’s big stomp on the economy. I doubt Manchin’s going to get excited to pass a climate-change bill under these circumstances, especially if he plans to run again in West Virginia.

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