Sen. Joe Manchin’s announcement that he will not support the Democrats’ giant spending bill should not have been a surprise
to anyone who has been watching Manchin for the last few months. Yet many Democrats, especially in the White House and in
the progressive wing of the House of Representatives, appeared shocked when Manchin told Fox News’ Bret Baier, “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t.”
They apparently believed Manchin would ultimately come around, and do so before Christmas. When he did not, they were stunned. Their reaction is the latest manifestation of a mass delusion affecting Democrats in Washington. For nearly a year, since Jan. 20, 2021, they have believed they could enact a nation-changing agenda — shades of FDR and LBJ! — without having won a majority of seats in the
U.S. Senate. Somehow, all on their own and without any Republican support, they could bring landmark legislation to a 50-50 tie vote in the Senate, and then have Vice President Kamala Harris break the tie in the Democrat’s favor. They seemed to forget that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson had huge majorities in both House and Senate when they enacted sprawling New Deal and Great Society legislation, respectively.
Even the structure of their massive spending bill, which they called Build Back Better, was shaped by their lack of a Senate majority. Democratic leaders knew how hard it would be to get anything through the Senate — to keep all 50 of their own senators together — so they packed nearly the entire Biden agenda of social spending and climate projects into a one big bill. Then everyone on their side would have to vote for it, wouldn’t they?
No, they wouldn’t. Manchin, a Democrat from a state Donald Trump carried by 40 points last year, voted for earlier massive spending measures but drew the line at Build Back Better. He gave lots of reasons. He’s worried about inflation. He’s worried about the accounting gimmicks. He’s worried that the bill distracts resources from the fight against COVID. But the bottom line was: No. Perhaps the real news was that Democrats were shocked. And angry. The White House quickly released a long statement, approved by President Biden himself, accusing Manchin of lying during negotiations over the bill. Manchin’s announcement on Fox News, the statement said, represented “a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the president and the senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”
Others were more … direct. “Let’s be clear: Manchin’s excuse is bulls—,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Still others used Manchin’s position to advocate blowing up the entire structure of the Senate. “What kind of healthy democracy is structured in a way that can allow one man elected by 290,000 voters in one of the least populous states to thwart the agenda of his party and the president who was elected with 81 million votes[?]” tweeted Sherrilyn Ifill, head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “We need structural change.” (Ifill neglected to note that Manchin had no special power by himself; he joined the 50 Republican senators who do not support the bill to create a 51-vote majority against the legislation.)
Obviously, Democrats were disappointed. That’s understandable. But what lay behind the intensity of their reaction? The American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis had a good point when he suggested the answer lay in the realm of psychology, not politics. “This whole fight over the Biden agenda seems like a behavioral psychology case study,” Pethokoukis tweeted. “Progressive Dems anchored their expectations when they thought the 2020 elections were going to be a big win — and when they weren’t, struggled to alter expectations.” So the answer to the question — Why do Democrats believe they can pass controversial, far- reaching, consequential legislation without holding a majority of seats in the Senate? — might be that Democrats have not accepted the fact that they do not hold a majority of seats in the Senate. They have never adjusted their agenda to fit their actual situation. But now reality is doing it for them.