OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
Democrats hold bare majorities in both chambers, but their spending and domestic policy priorities are being held up by infighting among the party’s progressive and moderate wings.
Specifically, as Politico noted in a Monday report, the battle between Sens. Joe Manchin and Bernie Sanders is holding up President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation that funds an array of social welfare benefits and new programs.
It was almost inevitable that the fight over President Joe Biden’s agenda would come down to Bernie Sanders vs. Joe Manchin.
They represent fewer than 1 percent of Americans, but there’s no clearer window into Democrats’ inability to advance their domestic priorities than the ongoing rift between the socialist Vermont Independent and the conservative West Virginia Democrat. The duo’s verbal scuffle over the pace and scope of Biden’s social spending plan is going increasingly public, with Sanders aggressively leaning on Manchin as the latter tries to trim a measure stocked with progressive priorities.
All Democrats in the Senate will be needed in order to pass the Biden plan because not a single Republican in the 50-50 chamber will support it, but thus far, Manchin has balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag and Sanders doesn’t want to come down any further after initially supporting a plan that costs $6 trillion.
Manchin has said he isn’t willing to go above $1.5 trillion, and has made that plain to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on numerous occasions, according to reports.
“I’ve been very clear when it comes to who we are as a society, who we are as a nation, and why we are still the hope of the world,” he said last week. “I don’t believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society. I think that we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society.”
And while there may be room for some negotiation at some point, Sanders isn’t making it easy.
“They’ve never been particularly close, and they have very different approaches,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
On Sunday, Sanders took a risk by planting an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail calling out Manchin in his own state.
“In America today, the very rich are becoming richer while millions of working families are struggling to put food on the table or pay their bills. We now have the absurd situation in which two multi-billionaires own more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans; the top 1% owns more wealth than the bottom 92%; and the gap between rich and poor is wider than at any time in the last 100 years,” Sanders, who hit on a familiar class warfare theme, began.
“The $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, supported by President Biden and almost all Democrats in Congress, is an unprecedented effort to finally address the long-neglected crises facing working families and demand that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in the country start paying their fair share of taxes,” he wrote, going on to call out Manchin by name.
“Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation. Yet, the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote ‘yes,’ We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin,” noted Sanders.
That was not seen as helpful by a number of Democrats who spoke to Politico on and off the record:
Some Democrats said that Sanders had erred by going after his colleague in his home state. Manchin has long said senators shouldn’t campaign against each other, and the op-ed from Sanders was “a mistake,” according to one Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to speak candidly: “It didn’t accomplish anything. We’re in a position to get this thing done. Everybody has to act like an adult.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told the outlet that “senators are entitled to their own opinions,” but added that “I understand why Sen. Manchin reportedly did not respond well to having an editorial written in one of his home-state papers.”
“They’re going to do battle in public. I don’t think that there’s any way around that,” noted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). But he warned that “every single day that we’re consumed by internal debates and internal arguments is a day that we’re not actively selling” the proposal to American voters.