A little trouble in paradise?
The gulf between far-left Sen. Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats but considers himself a Democratic socialist, and moderate Democrat Joe Manchin is enormous. And there are few signs that the two will be able to bridge that gap any time soon.
Insiders might call the disagreements between them a rift, but the truth is that it’s turning into a war — and Democrats in Congress are worried. Especially because the single most important piece of President Joe Biden’s agenda hinges upon the two senators finding common ground.
The conflict, of course, involves the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, which includes free preschool and community college, child care credits, paid family and medical leave, and measures to combat climate change. Many believe the true price tag of this legislation would be $5.5 trillion by the time all of its items were funded.
Sanders thinks the bill is too small.
Manchin, on the other hand, does not want to see the U.S. turned into a welfare state and says he will not vote for a package that exceeds $1.5 trillion. He and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are the only two Democrats who oppose the bill.
Manchin is also unhappy with Sanders for encouraging House progressives not to support the smaller $1.2 trillion spending bill until moderate Democrats, who have balked at the $3.5 trillion package, agree to support it.
On Friday, CNN reported that California Rep. Ro Khanna suggested to Biden in a private conference call that Sanders and Manchin should sit down and try to come to an agreement.
Biden reportedly told the House Democrats on the call that “getting them together in the same room would almost be like ‘homicide.’”
Sanders and Manchin couldn’t be farther apart. The public has been well aware of the feud between them, but we’re only now learning the true extent of it.
Most Democrats, according to CNN, are in agreement with Sanders’ wing of the party. The bigger the bill, the better.
One Democrat told the outlet that many senators have privately expressed frustration with Manchin and believe he is holding out for “publicity” reasons.
Biden is also frustrated with Manchin and Sinema. Two sources on the private conference call told CNN that Biden said he’d spent many hours with the two defectors, “and they don’t move.” Biden also said Sinema didn’t always return calls from the White House.
On Wednesday, Manchin told reporters, “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.”
Later in the day, Sanders said, “My concern with Mr. Manchin is not so much what his views are — I disagree with them — but it is that it is wrong, is really not playing fair, that one or two people think that they should be able to stop what 48 members of the Democratic caucus want, what the American people want, what the president of the United States wants.”
“Sen. Manchin has a right to fight for his point of view, has not only a right to be heard, he has a right to get some compromises,” Sanders continued. “He’s a member of the Senate. But two people do not have the right to sabotage what 48 want, and what the president of the United States wants. That to me is wrong.”
Actually, 52 senators disagree with what the president of the United States wants.
Few Democrats have “a clear sense of how [Sanders and Manchin] can resolve their differences,” CNN noted, but they say “they are hopeful the two will come to an agreement.”
It will be difficult.
Last weekend, while watching a series of Democratic lawmakers speak on cable news shows about the way forward for this enormous bill, I noticed something peculiar. None of them had any intention of stripping any entitlements from the bill to reduce its price tag.
Their plan was merely to fund the programs for shorter periods of time, thus lowering the cost of the bill. It’s an old budget gimmick.
Fortunately, I think Manchin and Sinema are a little too smart to fall for that.