Politicians need ambition, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer may be taking it too far in demanding that his chamber pass the National Defense Authorization Act, federal budget, debt-ceiling increase and Build Back Better Act before Christmas.
After refusing to bring up the NDAA for four months, Mr. Schumer now insists it has to pass this week without consideration of the 20 or so amendments offered by Democrats and Republicans. GOP senators won’t reward Mr. Schumer’s slow-rolling dodge. They’ll force votes on the amendments, and after Mr. Schumer gets over not having his way procedurally, the NDAA will pass overwhelmingly.
Mr. Schumer also must broker a deal to fund the government before its money runs out on Dec. 3. Democrats haven’t gotten their act together well enough to push a Biden -policy-centric budget. Republicans are happy to pass continuing resolutions with less spending and more Trump-era policies. Democrats want to fund government that way only for a few weeks, Republicans until March 2022. They’ll likely split the difference.
Then there’s the debt ceiling, which must be raised by Dec. 15 or Washington can’t borrow any more money. For years, Democrats voted against raising the debt ceiling when Republicans held the presidency and vice versa. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Democrats must use their reconciliation authority to do it, which Mr. Schumer opposes as time-consuming and a tough vote. But since they’re in charge, Democrats will have to raise the limit.
Last and most challenging for Democrats is President Biden’s multitrillion-dollar welfare expansion—Build Back Better. If it is approved in its current form, it’ll be a demonstration of the true power of bullying.
The object of Democrats’ pressure campaign is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, whose support they need to pass the BBB spending binge through the 50-50 Senate. They seem intent on getting him to crack and uninterested in compromising on the things he’s consistently, clearly said he requires or can’t support.
To get his vote, Mr. Manchin has stated that there must be work requirements for the child tax credit and its availability limited to families making $60,000 or less. The bill contains no such provisions. He also opposes paid family leave as part of Build Back Better. It’s still in the bill.
The senator says new programs must be “needs based with means testing.” Good luck finding that in the bill. There must be “no additional handouts or transfer payments.” There are plenty. He also doesn’t like the extra subsidy for cars built in union plants—which is still in the bill too. He wants “fuel neutral” climate policies focused on “innovation, not elimination” of hydrocarbons. The bill would do the opposite.
Mr. Manchin also objects to the sheer size of Build Back Better. He says the bill must be paid for, that he won’t “support a reconciliation package that expands social programs and irresponsibly adds to our nearly $29 trillion in national debt.” Given the looming insolvency of Medicare (2026) and Social Security (2033), he says he “won’t support a multitrillion-dollar bill without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effect inflation and debt have.”
The biggest impediment to Mr. Manchin’s support is what he calls “shell games” to hide the act’s true costs. The bill collects revenue for 10 years but sunsets its spending provisions earlier—the child and earned-income tax credits expire after a year, ObamaCare subsidies after four, child-care outlays and free universal pre-school after six. But no one really thinks these programs will end. Each expiration date provides Democrats a convenient election-year issue.
That is why Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s letter last Monday asking the Congressional Budget Office to score the act “as if the temporary polices in the bill were instead permanent” is so important. The CBO response will affirm the bill would create a multitrillion dollar flood of red ink if made permanent—which is surely the Democrats’ intent.
That leaves three scenarios. Maybe threats from Democratic bigwigs will convince Mr. Manchin to cave in and vote for Build Back Better. That’s unlikely; he sounds as if he means what he says. Perhaps Democrats will find the right package of special benefits for West Virginia to convince Mr. Manchin to abandon his principled stand, but that seems improbable too.
The most likely outcome, in my opinion, is that Mr. Manchin will show the country his convictions matter: He’ll vote no and Build Back Better will fail, denying Mr. Schumer his Christmas victory and the Democratic left its transformational moment. We’ll find out soon if the red-state Democrat is one of those principled Americans who puts country ahead of party.