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Manchin and Biden Are Two Doves, Crying

Dig, if you will, the reconciliation budget package; the two Joes engaged in a deal.

Joe Biden gestures alongside Senator Joe Manchin.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Joe Manchin and Joe Biden, in happier times

Dream, if you can, a courtyard, outside Chuck Schumer’s office, where tense negotiations Thursday night between progressives and their moderate antagonists reached a boiling point, threatening to derail both Joe Manchin’s bipartisan infrastructure bill and Joe Biden’s Build Back Better reconciliation plan.

“It is an absurd way to do business,” Bernie Sanders said outside Schumer’s office Thursday night, “to be negotiating a multitrillion-dollar bill a few minutes before a major vote with virtually nobody knowing what’s going on. That’s unacceptable.” Meanwhile, talking to reporters ahead of an earlier meeting in Schumer’s office this week, Manchin was still stressing the importance of loading down many of the bill’s programs with additional means-testing, a sign of how far apart they still remain.

This is what it sounds like when doves cry. And while it might seem unfair to make allusions to a song about an abusive relationship when describing the current congressional dynamics, the fact is that this tortured process is increasingly taking on that tone. Especially now that we know that Manchin kept his plans secret for two months, all while encouraging progressives to back a bill under a different set of assumptions—the definition of gaslighting.

After months of promises that the two bills would be paired together—and a deadline this week for a House vote on the infrastructure package—Manchin revealed Thursday that he had made a secret agreement with Schumer, signed back in July, in which he stipulated that he’d be willing to spend only $1.5 trillion in the reconciliation deal and that it couldn’t be paired with the infrastructure bill. The revelation left progressives wondering how, Schumer, can you just leave them standing, alone in a Congress that’s so cold.

Perhaps Bernie and his progressive Democrats in the House questioned if they had just been too demanding or maybe, just like their forefathers, too bold. That’s unlikely though, in a week when even The New York Times deficit scold David Brooks is calling for $4 trillion in spending. The ambitious reconciliation bill isn’t something dreamed up by Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; it’s the plan proposed by Joe Biden, the president who became his party’s nominee by beating back more progressive challengers.

Instead, the hiccups that threatened to derail Biden’s agenda have come from the so-called moderate—perhaps more accurately dubbed conservative—wing, of Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and their lackeys in the House. They’re never satisfied, leaving the rest of the Democratic caucus to wonder why they are forced to scream at each other.

This cohort of conservative Democrats strikes curious poses. They’re feeling the heat: specifically the heat between what is broadly popular among the public and the heat of their donor class.

While progressives have been willing to negotiate, the conservative holdouts have, at least until the past few days, been withholding, unwilling to say what they will consider acceptable in a reconciliation deal. But they’ve got the butterflies, all tied up: At a certain point, progressives will have to call it quits, telling Manchin, “Don’t make me chase you,” since even doves have pride.

But don’t cry, don’t cry. As my colleague Timothy Noah pointed out last week, Democrats are exceedingly likely to reach a deal at some point, even if they blow past the artificial deadlines set for this week. He even laid out a route for trimming $1 trillion to reach a middle ground.

So there may be some further family infighting over the next few weeks, but don’t fret, some sort of deal is likely to come together in the end, if only because the Democrats’ 2022 midterm ambitions rest on it. Can you, my darling, can you picture this?