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Politics The implosion that didn't happen -- and the very real issues Biden still confronts on his agenda

10:45  07 november  2021
10:45  07 november  2021 Source:   cnn.com

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For about 30 minutes on Monday, it appeared as if West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin had rolled a hand grenade down the hallway in which President Joe Biden's $3 trillion, two-bill domestic agenda was patiently waiting to move through the House as soon as this week.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and  Director of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council Susan Rice exit a closed-door meeting at the U.S. Capitol on September 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. Manchin has stated that he will not support a social policy spending package that goes over $1.5 trillion, at odds with the $3.5 trillion package supported by more liberal Democrats. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) © Drew Angerer/Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and  Director of the U.S. Domestic Policy Council Susan Rice exit a closed-door meeting at the U.S. Capitol on September 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. Manchin has stated that he will not support a social policy spending package that goes over $1.5 trillion, at odds with the $3.5 trillion package supported by more liberal Democrats. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Then House progressives -- the same House progressives who rejected two prior deadlines and had been in a rhetorical and policy war with Manchin and fellow centrist holdout Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for months -- picked it up and calmly placed the pin back in.

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There are still significant issues on the policy side that need to be resolved for Democrats to actually move forward in House this week on Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and $1.75 trillion economic and climate package. But House progressives moving off the demand of explicit assurances from all 50 Democratic senators that they will vote for the package is significant -- and keeps the process on track. For now.

The bottom line is that Manchin's remarks didn't blow anything up. Progressives are now all in on moving as soon as both bills are ready. But that doesn't mean Biden's going to be holding a signing ceremony for his Senate-passed infrastructure bill this week. There is still significant work underway to draft and finalize key provisions of the economic and climate package. Wrapping that up in the next 24 hours seems ... ambitious. But it's clear the push to move as fast as possible is still on -- and nothing Manchin said changed that.

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The timeline

House Democratic leaders are still pressing forward on the effort to have votes on both the infrastructure proposal and the economic and climate package this week.

CNN's Manu Raju and Annie Grayer reported House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told top lieutenants the House Rules Committee will meet Wednesday to continue work to advance the economic and climate package.

This is the most tangible trigger that things are actually moving. Nothing gets to the House floor without Rules Committee action.

House Democratic leaders are considering votes as soon as Wednesday or Thursday, CNN reported, and the Rules Committee will have to finish its work before any votes are possible. Rules Committee consideration can also be postponed -- or delayed even after it starts -- but it serves as most concrete next step whenever leaders are ready to hit the gas.

Regular reminder

Drafting legislative text takes time. A lot of time. Drafting text in real time, during ongoing negotiations, while trying to finish in a matter of days (or hours) exacerbates the complexity ten-fold. Caution with any timelines is merited, even when, as is the case now, there is a clear push to move as quickly as possible.

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The real takeaway from four hours of chaos

This from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, is the most important thing that happened on Monday:

"I just have to believe what the President says, and the President said right after the senator spoke that he is confident he can deliver 51 votes for this plan," Jayapal told CNN. "I am going to trust the President. Our members are going to trust the President, and we are going to do the job that we need to do, which is pass it through."

Manchin has always been viewed, to a degree, as Biden's personal project. Over the last 10 months the two have spent countless hours on the phone and in the Oval Office in private conversations. Some have been policy specific. Others have been wide-ranging theoretical discussions about the future of America, international competitiveness and the people of West Virginia, according to people briefed on the talks. But Biden has consistently been of the view privately, those people say, that Manchin will be there in the end.

He alluded to this at the CNN town hall, when he said this: "Look, Joe -- Joe is not a bad guy. He's a friend. And he's always, at the end of the day, come around and voted for it."

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Biden is firmly of the belief that will be the case this time around. And now it's abundantly clear that it's all on Biden's shoulders to deliver that "yes" vote.

The other takeaway

From the most honest (and generally optimistic ... and occasionally profane) Democrat in Washington, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, when asked if progressives made a mistake in blocking action on Biden's agenda last week:

"Of course, but I think Joe made a mistake today by going out and giving a news conference."


Video: Biden's audacious announcement of a framework comes without public commitments from key Democrats (CNN)

The nearest-term issues

Things may not have been blown up on Monday, but there are still very real issues that need to be resolved -- and quickly.

There are intensive negotiations to find a compromise on prescription drugs -- something left out of Biden's framework -- that can make its way into the package. This is a huge issue for Democrats, who know it polls extremely well and has also been a long-standing commitment for the party.

But the opposition of a handful of House Democrats and Sinema have limited the scope and scale of the initial ambitions.

Still, for a few days it appeared it would be scrapped altogether. Then Democrats launched frenzied behind-the-scenes negotiations to try and thread the needle.

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Those are still ongoing.

Democratic leaders also have to address immigration, which a handful of House Democrats have also said must be addressed to secure their votes. Senate rules have limited -- if not outright killed -- most ambitions on this front. But leaders know they need some kind of resolution here.

And finally, Manchin's full-throated view that he needs to see scores in order to vote on any final proposal isn't exclusive to him.

There are a group of moderate House Democrats who share that view and have communicated it with leadership, according to two sources.

Given how quickly Democratic leaders want to move, that stance makes things more complicated.

Remember: Pelosi can only afford to lose three House Democrats. There is virtually no margin for error and a number of real issues to resolve -- and fast.

Another under-appreciated outstanding issue

Progressives may now be willing to move forward without explicit assurances from centrist senators, but moderate Democrats have been clear for weeks they don't want to vote on anything that will then be changed in the Senate. With Manchin making clear there's still a long way to go with him, this is an issue that needs to be reconciled.

About the Manchin remarks

CNN reported that Manchin had been frustrated that House Democrats were trying to get him to make a clear endorsement of the $1.75 trillion framework -- and he wanted to make clear where he stood as he was getting lobbied to back adding more social programs to the plan, according to a source familiar with his thinking.

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He also had grown angry that progressives thought they had leverage over him to back the $1.75 trillion social safety net expansion plan if they withheld their support for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, the source said.

Manchin, the source said, also didn't like last-minute changes being made to the social safety net proposal.

In short, he didn't want to get jammed into supporting something he was far from ready to endorse.

The White House view

About 20 minutes after Manchin concluded his remarks, White House press secretary Jen Psaki released this statement:

"Senator Manchin says he is prepared to support a Build Back Better plan that combats inflation, is fiscally responsible, and will create jobs. The plan the House is finalizing meets those tests—it is fully paid for, will reduce the deficit, and brings down costs for health care, childcare, elder care, and housing. Experts agree: Seventeen Nobel Prize-winning economists have said it will reduce inflation. As a result, we remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin's support."

White House senior staff have spoken to Manchin after his comments Monday, a source familiar with the talks tells CNN.

But Biden, who is attending a global climate summit overseas, has not directly spoken with Manchin. Biden is scheduled to leave Glasglow and return to Washington overnight, where House progressives are counting on him to secure Manchin's support.

What that means

White House officials have spent months making the case that the proposal, which Biden has made explicit will be paid for in its entirety, will actually reduce inflation over time due to its overall focus on boosting supply-side capacity. In other words, it's the opposite of the American Rescue Plan, which was designed for a short-term demand-side boost. Instead, Biden's economic and climate package is spread over time and aimed at boosting capacity, something the President's economic team believes will work to help diffuse inflationary pressures.

That's the pitch at least. But it's clear that they have at least one critical person to convince that's the case: Manchin. That effort has actually been underway for several months. Clearly more work needs to be done.

Manchin's position

The reason the effort to convince Manchin about the proposals effect on inflation has been ongoing for several months is pretty simple: little if anything he said in his statement is a shift in his long held position.

As one Democratic senator told CNN: "Manchin is going to Manchin. We've all known all of this. Not minimizing it, but it's not revelatory."

Why was nothing viewed as revelatory?

  • Read Manchin's September Wall Street Journal opinion piece
  • Or his appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press"
  • Or his September statement
  • Or his comments to reporters in last week

This isn't meant to minimize Manchin's concerns at all -- just to make clear few people who've been paying attention heard much new in them.

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