SEPTEMBER 15, 2021
Kuttner on TAP
A Grand Bargain on Infrastructure and Saving Democracy?
Chuck Schumer is bargaining with Joe Manchin on two vital fronts. One concerns the survival of American democracy. The other involves the scale of President Biden’s public-investment program, to be resolved in budget reconciliation.

In a just world, Joe Manchin would not be calling the tune, but this is the world we live in. We urgently need his vote on both fronts.

Of the two fights, literally nothing is more important than voting rights. If Republican state legislatures are able not just to suppress voting and intimidate poll workers but overturn election results after the fact, it’s game over—not just for Biden’s slender majority in Congress but for democracy itself.

On this front, there seems to be a breakthrough. Schumer, Amy Klobuchar, and Manchin have co-sponsored a voting rights bill called the Freedom to Vote Act. It doesn’t quite have everything progressives might wish for, like public financing of elections, but the bill does what needs to be done to block the various forms of Republican mischief and safeguard the right to vote. Here is a good summary.

The choreography is simple. The bill is brought to the Senate for a vote, Republicans use the filibuster to block it, and then it is showtime for Manchin.

Does Schumer have a deal with Manchin, whereby Republicans block the bill and then Manchin makes a one-time exception to his defense of the filibuster in order to save this Republic?

Schumer isn’t saying. Neither is Manchin. It’s hard to believe they would go this far without a plan for the endgame. (A far inferior backup plan would be to tack some, but not all, of a voting rights bill onto budget reconciliation, which has to involve taxing or spending.)

Due to the interesting timing, there may be an even grander bargain here. As I reported Monday, there also seems to be a deal in the making whereby the spending part of Biden’s Build Back Better program is cut by at least a trillion dollars in budget reconciliation; but in return, a lot of de facto spending is done through what are described as “middle-class tax cuts,” most notably the Child Tax Credit.

So progressives get their $3.5 trillion total package, and fiscal conservatives get their spending cuts. This deal is also tailor-made to get Joe Manchin’s support.

The two deals might even be connected: Schumer goes along with steep cuts on the spending side; Manchin agrees to a one-time suspension of the filibuster, enabling Democrats to get voting rights.

If Majority Leader Schumer pulls this off, he is a worthy successor to LBJ as Master of the Senate—and with a 50-50 partisan split and Joe Manchin, no less.

Rice and two other House Democrats oppose aggressive drug price reform, which provides the budget savings available to fuel spending in the Build Back Better Act. BY DAVID DAYEN
Trumpism, it turns out, is not widely popular. BY HAROLD MEYERSON
A running tally of the lawmakers who have—and have not—committed to withhold their votes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in favor of robust budget reconciliation BY JULIA ROCK
Democrats may have to decide whether to do a few things well or a bunch of things not so well. BY DAVID DAYEN
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