Hey Not-So-Big Spender – Is Senator Manchin Ready to Rumble on Biden’s BBB?

Hey Not-So-Big Spender – Is Senator Manchin Ready to Rumble on Biden’s BBB?

I wouldn’t call Joe Manchin good lookin’ or particularly refined, even for a US senator.

He does possess a noirish backroom quality, hinting at a ramrod spine – that’s how you prosper in Washington DC, ladies and gents of the Congressional gallery.

Some people loathe him, others cry patriot. My opinion awaits the outcome, whatever and whenever that may be.

But say, wouldn’t you like to know what’s going on in his mind? Let me get right to the point: Senator Joe is facing off again with his namesake in the White House. At stake: the fate of the president’s Build Back Better plan.

It should have passed by now, says the prez. No go said the other Joe. I’ll bet their negotiating lexicon is far more colorful that any showtune lyrics, for sure.

Here’s where we stand, as of today: Senator Manchin won’t pop his vote cork for any old big spenders – it makes me wonder if he checked the wrong party-affiliation box on his Senate onboarding form. When we’re talking federal spending, I guess it’s all a matter of degree in DC.

My editor, Rebecca, rates Manchin a step or two below evil Don Barzini, plotting ruin against his titular friend, gentle Don Joe Biden, calmly stroking his cat in the White House, trying to remember its name. We stand in opposition, Rebecca and me.

Rebecca bellows a wonderful version of “Hey, Big Spender,” one that makes her cat Bertie howl and bite the nearest human head. I cribbed a lyric or two from the tune in this article, so she earns a credit. Ba-zing for Bertie, the feline Bob Fosse!

Joe Manchin wants a Democratic-leaning budget, but he wants it leaner than the other Joe plans. The BBB plan as originally constructed was a gut-buster for JM, or more rightly, he feared the long-term implications of the $1.75 trillion grab-bag for our national debt.

Consider the matter of the Child Tax Credit – Senator Joe opposes it. This sort of thing is what gets him in trouble, at least in public. Say ‘no’ to children and families – or appear to do so – and your name is Joe Mudd. However…

Joe’s concern is the cost. He’s stated his view: the CTC income cap is too high, and families of means, who don’t need a tax break (we know how Democrats are supposed to feel about those) are getting unneeded relief. Right now, it seems his Democratic compadres are seeing the matter similarly, and Republicans are speaking up in support of CTC, if properly limited. Compromise, and some bipartisan support, may be gelling on Capitol Hill.

Manchin’s big beef isn’t really about this or that line item, which in more sensible times could always be adjusted via some pony-swapping in committee. Joe Jr. thinks the BBB budget could end up committing the country to a long-term $4 trillion in spending – as an old timer, I have to remind myself not to type ‘billion’. How things have grown.

Inflation – that’s what he fears. Last year, not everyone understood, but now we all get it. In December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its inflation tally for the year: 6.8%. Inflation is what happens when an economy grows hot – or when a government prints and spends too much paper money.

Whatever you think of this program or that – a Green New Deal, low-income support, better access to healthcare, free vocational education, student loan relief, what have you – Joe’s fear is real. They call what we’re seeing today ‘runaway inflation’ – in fact, it’s charging straight at us, and it is ravenous.

The lone senator fought off his party, won unwanted plaudits from Republican foes, and got in a red-hot slanging match with the White House just before Christmas. Then, the holiday spirit intervened: the Two Joes got on the blower, talked out the bitterness, agreed not to agree until the New Year.

Manchin has reportedly floated a budget: oddly, if not bizarrely, it totals $1.8 trillion. Loner Joe has not publicly commented, but I’m guessing the long-term costs are better controlled in his version, at least in legislative theory. His proposed bill includes universal preschool funding, green energy credits for taxpayers (my crystal ball sees a Prius in your future), and other bits forming the stuff of Democrats’ dreams.

Our spotlight shines glaringly on nothingness: under Manchin’s bill, the child tac credit would receive no funding. Here’s the problem: we already have a CTC, which can be granted to families earning up to $400,000 per year. We can expect negotiations to return the CTC to the budget, I think, with a reduction in that top-income bracket, as Joe originally wanted. Is simple old horse-trading returning to style?

If last year taught us anything, it is this: things may not turn out as sensibly expected. The inclusion of CTC may be vital if Senate Democrats want to pass the bill with bipartisan support – as noted, some Republics support the measure. If the Demos prefer to go their own way and pass the bill under parliamentary procedure that requires only 50 votes plus a tiebreaker (the Senate president, Kamala Harris), they may need to toss CTC on the floor, and pick it up again in a later legislative session.

I don’t know how it will play; I doubt our congressmen have much idea, either. Alas, I fear we are facing another drop-dead interesting year. Would that I could tell you otherwise, my wizened, shellshocked and exhausted, dear readers.

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