Joe Manchin Preaching Fiscal Responsibility From His Yacht Feels a Bit on the Nose

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Photo credit: screenshot - Twitter
Photo credit: screenshot - Twitter

We've got a new offering from the Department of On-the-Nose Metaphors courtesy of Joe Manchin, his yacht, and some activists on kayaks. There's been a sense throughout the extended infrastructure saga that key players therein are beyond the reach of their constituents and the public, striding the marble halls of the Capitol fielding the occasional question about the reconciliation bill's price tag or intra-Democratic Party squabbling. Rarely is the West Virginia senator—or Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema, for that matter—asked why he is blocking the most significant investment in everyday American families in generations, or why he opposes a critical framework to begin decarbonizing our transportation and energy systems in earnest. There is seldom much discussion of what's actually in the $3.5 trillion bill, a list that includes changes to the tax code that would ensure the bill does not actually cost $3.5 trillion. There is almost never any mention of the fact that we spend vastly more on bombs and bullets and planes that don't work every year without even a moment's hesitation over inflation or The National Debt. Made-up nonsense like the filibuster or the reconciliation process itself are taken for granted.

Sometimes, it just takes some activists in kayaks, I guess. They floated up to Manchin's sprawling yacht in Washington, D.C. on Thursday and asked some questions that need to be asked, creating a visual in the process that speaks just as loudly. Here's one of 100 senators, imbued with superpowers thanks to the quirks of our constitutional system, leaning over the ramparts to speak to the common folk below as they ask, with no little desperation, why we can't fund dental coverage as part of Medicare.

Manchin still seems to be sticking to this idea that the bill is just too big and it makes him uncomfortable. This at least points towards the notion that there is some size of bill that he would support. His compatriot in this mission to torpedo the domestic agenda of a president in his own nominal party, Kyrsten Sinema, can scarcely assure us of even that much. Sinema has donors to feed, but her strategy to avoid passing a set of vital and popular proposals is increasingly chaotic and inscrutable.

The Arizona senator has reportedly left Washington on Friday as the machinations over the two bills—reconciliation and the parallel Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework—continue apace. There appeared a completely disorienting missive in Axios in which anonymous "allies" of "the wine-drinking triathlete" talked up her imperviousness to political pressure. (The article obsesses over the wine thing throughout.) Sinema is apparently opposed to raising taxes on corporations and the rich too much, but she's also concerned about The National Debt, but she also took a central role crafting the separate bipartisan bill which is "paid for" through accounting witchcraft. Also, nobody cares about The National Debt. They just don't want to pay taxes to fund social programs.

Sinema's poll numbers are taking a turn, but that doesn't seem to be affecting her calculus. And meanwhile, through these weeks and weeks of drag-on legislating, the West was on fire and seemingly everywhere else in this country was under threat of drowning. The boosted pandemic unemployment benefits are gone, and more and more people will be going to work sick. None of this seems to matter? Just a completely bewildering time to be alive.

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