Each day those of us desperately waiting for the advancement of President Joe Biden’s transformational Build Back Better plan watch the news breathlessly to learn the latest on the positions of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. With the simple force of “no,” of inertia, these two hold-outs have double-handedly, for the moment, overpowered the voice of the other 48 Democratic senators prepared to pass historic legislation to address climate change, drastically reduce child poverty, provide families with support for childcare, move toward creating tax equity, and more.
History and the welfare of America’s working- and middle-class families are being held hostage.
Biden’s avuncular cajoling and politicking aside, skilled as it might be, has gone on long enough. It’s time for an end to the tactics of gentle persuasion. Too much is at stake.
As Senator Bernie Sanders said the other day, Manchin and Sinema are “acting like Republicans.”
If they’re going to act like Republicans, then Biden and the Democrats need to treat them like Republicans.
Ousting them from the party will do more to save Biden’s agenda in the short and long term than continuing to cajole and placate the irrational and disingenuous game-players that Manchin and Sinema are.
It should be clear that neither Senator has approached negotiations over this legislation in good faith. They either don’t or won’t say what the legislation needs to look like for them to endorse it, or, particularly in the case of Manchin, they keep moving the goalposts.
Their bad faith is most evident when it comes to their fallback insistence on bi-partisanship, which they both invoke routinely as the rationale behind their resistance, if not outright refusal, to pass legislation with exclusively Democratic votes.
But you only have to think about their behaviors and positions for two seconds to realize how ridiculous—and ridiculously hypocritical—their positions are.
First, consider this point: they complain that the Democrats need to do more to work and compromise with Republicans to earn the support of both parties for effective legislation. Yet, Manchin and Sinema will not even negotiate and compromise with members of their own party.
A bill that once had a price tag of $3 trillion has been whittled down to under $2 trillion, quite a concession by progressive Democrats, and still, we see no movement from either Manchin or Sinema.
They aren’t exemplifying the kind of willingness to negotiate and compromise that they exalt as the standard of bi-partisanship.
Rather, they are reveling in the very kind of autocratic politics that has been coming to the fore as an imminent and brewing threat to American democracy.
They are wielding power to assert minority rule, not to forward the deliberate and messy compromises of democracy in action.
As Sanders said, characterizing Manchin’s and Sinema’s positions,
“You got two people who say, ‘You know what, hey if you don’t do it my way—I don’t care what the president wants, I don’t care what 48 of my colleagues want—it’s my way or the highway. And that I regard as arrogance… You fight for your ideas, but you don’t say, ‘My way or the highway.'”
This “my way or the highway” attitude sounds a lot like the politics of Trump and his followers—like the politics of the January 6 insurrectionists.
Manchin and Sinema, Democrats need to see and accept, have no interest in passing legislation, only in delaying and obstructing, with the final effect of damaging, if not destroying, the Democrats’ chances of maintaining majorities in the House and Senate.
Manchin, we know, has billionaire Trump supporter Nelson Peltz whispering in his ear on a weekly basis, encouraging him to undermine the Build Back Better plan. Peltz wants to keep, if not expand, the tax cuts Trump doled out to the wealthiest Americans. Back in 2016, Peltz forwarded the Republican big lie about tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, that they help the economy, pay for themselves, and create jobs. He said back then, “If he gets the kind of tax reductions he’s talking about, we will wind up having more employment, more companies coming back to the United States.” Of course, large corporations that lobbied for the Trump tax cuts, like At&T and Wells Fargo, raked in billions of dollars in tax cuts while cutting tens of thousands of jobs.
Manchin isn’t worried about fiscal responsibility; he’s worried, in tried and true Republican fashion, about serving the interests and doing the bidding of the wealthy.
Indeed, a vast majority of West Virginians support the content of Biden’s Build Back Better plan, but Manchin, it seems, couldn’t care less about representing their interests. He has abandoned the principles of representative democracy.
And, when it comes to Sinema, frankly, who knows what she’s up to.
What we can know, if we observe honestly, is that these two are playing games and not negotiating in good faith.
Democrats need to cut them off. Make them vote against legislation that offers so much support and equity for American workers and their families. Make them own their positions.
Better yet, kick them out of the party. If they believe so deeply in bi-partisanship, they can work with Democrats from their positions among Senate Republicans.
As it is, what is happening now is the obstructionist politics of Manchin and Sinema are enabling the media to frame the stalling of the Build Back Better legislation as a failure of the Democratic Party, implicitly conveying that somehow the solution to the Congress’s failure to pass transformational legislation people want is to turn to Republicans who have done nothing but sow hate and division while serving the wealthy.
Obviously, the real problem is that Republicans don’t care about addressing climate change, decreasing child poverty, making tax codes more equitable, and doing anything to help American families by distributing the substantial American pie more equitably.
And Manchin and Sinema don’t either. So treat them like the Republicans they are and kick them out of the Democratic Party, so it’s clear who and which party is failing the American people.
It’s time to stop cajoling these two and to take them to task for the liars and bad-faith actors they are.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.