Chuck and Nancy’s Game of Chicken with Manchin and Sinema 

It’s looking more and more like two relatively unassuming senators hold the fate of the Democratic Party, not to mention the nation, in their hands. 

While it isn’t certain that Nancy Pelosi can shoehorn those two massive spending bills Joe Biden is hawking through the House, it does seem likely, given her legendary charms (and terrors). In the Senate, however, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have been entirely consistent from the start of the process. They won’t vote for a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that vastly expands the welfare state, period. In fact, they might not even vote for a bill half that size. 

Pelosi and Schumer, though, just keep chugging along, oblivious to Manchin and Sinema’s opposition. Why? 

Given that they have basically zero Republican support for the reconciliation bill, it seems likely Nancy and Chuck have been playing chicken with Joe and Kyrsten. Presumably they assume that, if they can get the precious reconciliation bill to the edge of passage, no Democrat would dare oppose it, because if they do, the entire progressive wing of the party, and most core Democrats, will despise them with every fiber of their beings. Manchin and Sinema would surely be primaried when they are up for reelection, and they would therefore face political death at the hands of militant leftists. Despite this intense pressure to toe the Democratic/progressive line, however, Manchin and Sinema aren’t budging—and thus the centerpiece of Joe Biden’s first term agenda is on the brink of total ruination. 

Why, you ask? Can’t the Democrats just agree to spend slightly less, and bring Manchin and Sinema along? Not necessarily, because hardcore progressive members of Congress have been insisting on a great big price tag, or else they’ll take their toys and go home. 

The upshot here, therefore, is that Manchin and Sinema are threatening to spoil all the Democratic/progressive fun, and to scupper their plans to make big government bigger still. Worse, if Democrats can’t pass meaningful legislation, even when they control both houses of Congress and the presidency, then why should voters retain them in office? The Democratic establishment assumes that, if these bills aren’t passed, the Democratic base’s enthusiasm will collapse, and the GOP will gallop to victory in 2022.

Maybe. But 2022 is a long way off. The opposite assumption—that passing these bills will cause the electorate to overflow with gratitude and reward Democrats with reelection—may be just as flawed. 

One thing is for sure, though: if Manchin and Sinema sink the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill, moderates and progressives in the Democratic caucus and in the Democratic Party as a whole will blame each other. The Bidenist consensus on the Left will collapse in a heap . . . and it’s hard to see how Republicans wouldn’t be in a strong position to benefit from that

So our message to Manchin and Sinema is short and sweet: keep on keepin’ on! The nation needs you to sink these awful, spendthrift bills. And we, America’s conservatives, Republicans, and Trumpers, will thank you for it (even if your fellow Democrats assuredly won’t)! 

About Nicholas L. Waddy

Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.

Photo: Kent Nishimura via Getty Images

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