Joe Manchin blew up Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda yesterday and he did it in the most insulting way possible. He went on Fox News and told the conservative base that the bill is dead. He left the White House scrambling and Democrats in Congress fuming. Even if he was going to make the announcement, he could have done it in a more neutral setting. It was the media equivalent of giving his own party the finger. 

That said, Manchin may be an asshole, but he’s been consistent in his demands and they aren’t totally unreasonable. He’s been saying that the package needed to be trimmed down and that every program in it needed to be funded for the full ten years. Many programs were partially funded and put the burden on future Congresses to either find additional funding or scrap them. Agree with it or not, there’s merit in that position.   

But Manchin damaged Biden’s credibility with the progressives in Congress. The president went to the House and promised Democrats that if they passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill as a stand-alone, he would ensure that Build Back Better got passed. Manchin has made him out to be a liar. He didn’t have to do that. He could have killed or altered the bill in less dramatic fashion. Again, the guy is an asshole. 

All of that said, Democrats have botched their social spending package from the beginning. They never sold it to the American people. They just assumed that people knew what was in it and what they were trying to accomplish. The bill spent half its short life as the “reconciliation bill” and the last few months as Build Back Better, which sounds more like the infrastructure bill. Instead of building broad support for the measure, they acted like they had a mandate that isn’t there. 

I know more about what was in the bill today than I did on Saturday and I follow politics fairly closely. I did a brief, informal poll of a handful of politically aware friends and they couldn’t tell me what was in it, either, other than child tax credits and that it clean energy provisions. Manchin got away with what he did because Democrats failed to make it politically painful for him to do it. 

Smarter politicos would have named the bill after something it does, not some broad theme with vague goals. They also would have been running ads in West Virginia educating Manchin’s voters about the benefits of the bill to his constituents. Maybe they actually did that, but I haven’t heard anything about it. Regardless, Democrats never built broad support for the bill and they never explained to the American public how they would benefit from it.

Democrats should learn from what just happened and try to salvage something. Manchin has not said he won’t vote for anything; he just won’t vote for the Build Back Better framework. They should push for a more modest bill and sell the components of it as they develop it. Play by Manchin’s rules since he holds all of the cards. Explain to the people of West Virginia the benefits of the proposals so Manchin can’t say he couldn’t justify the expense to his constituents, like he did with BBB. 

Democrats have a narrow majority in Congress for another year. They should try to get something that more reflects their advantage than trying to get something that’s as transformative as Build Back Better. If they do, maybe they can build on their success for the midterms and live to fight another day. 

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