OCTOBER 26, 2021
Meyerson on TAP
Manchin and Sinema May Be Dooming the Democrats in 2022
Compelling Biden to bend to their demands weakens him and their party going into the midterms.
I’m not aware of any poll that has asked the question “Do you think President Biden is being jerked around by two senators?” but I think a large number of Americans, if asked, would answer that in the affirmative. Of course, it’s not just Biden but the entire Democratic Party, root and branch, that’s being jerked around by Sens. Manchin and Sinema—and it’s the entire Democratic Party that will likely pay a price for this in next year’s midterm elections.

We’ve been here before. During the initial two years of his presidency, Barack Obama engaged in what seemed at the time like an endless succession of negotiations with Republicans and centrist Democratic senators over his proposed Affordable Care Act. In the end, the Republicans flatly rejected it in any way, shape, or form, but perhaps even more nettlesome was the determination on the part of two Democratic senators in particular—Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus of Montana and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman—to pare back the bill. And pared it was, with Obama and his fellow Democrats forced to bow to Baucus and Lieberman’s demand to scuttle the establishment of a public option that could compete with profit-driven, coverage-denying private health insurance corporations.

As I’ve written in the current print issue of the Prospect, time plays a crucial role in the public’s assessment of elected officials and their programs. A program that’s slow to roll out and slow to deliver its benefits to the public doesn’t usually benefit its authors in the election following its enactment. Similarly, a president who proclaims a bold program, only to spend months being compelled to hack away at it due to the obstinate resistance of a handful of legislators who have the upper hand in the proceedings, doesn’t emerge unscathed from that process. Obama surely didn’t, though his inability to persuade some nominally Democratic renegades to support the public good over their insurance industry donors was only one reason why the Democrats bombed in the 2010 midterms, losing both houses of Congress in the process.

My concern is that Joe Biden is trapped in the same dynamic that plagued Obama, with his polling dropping precipitously as the two Democratic renegades, similarly more in the sway of donors (and innumerate economics) than the public interest, are prevailing over the president and the rest of the party in paring back a long-overdue shift to bolstering the fortunes of most Americans. Indeed, Biden has publicly stated that with only 50 Democrats in the Senate, just one senator—or in this case, two—effectively has presidential powers. What with Manchin compelling his fellow Democrats to halve their proposals (or, if he won’t budge from $1.5 trillion, cut them to three-sevenths), and Sinema rejecting an increase to tax rates on the wealthy and corporations, they’ve clearly diminished the appearance and actuality of Biden’s power, whether that’s their intention or not.

To be sure, there are other factors behind the erosion of Biden’s public support, as there was with Obama’s, and there’s a distinct possibility that when the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills are finally passed, and their programs promptly (one hopes) implemented, Biden will rebound. But just as Baucus and Lieberman played a role in dragging Obama down and giving the Congress over to the Republicans, so Manchin and Sinema seem poised to have a kindred effect over the fortunes of Biden and their congressional colleagues.

Sometimes, tragedy repeats itself as tragedy.

Introducing the ‘Deus Tax Machina’
Sen. Ron Wyden’s bid to rescue the Build Back Better Act’s revenue side is an audacious attempt to rein in billionaires and mega-corporations. BY DAVID DAYEN
Democrats, Be Careful With the Medicaid Expansion
The Medicaid expansion provisions of the reconciliation bill risk being overturned by the Supreme Court. BY PAUL STARR
A Silver Lining in the Story of Private Equity Killing the Press
The Provincetown Independent reminds us what a local paper is supposed to look like. BY ROBERT KUTTNER
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