Better Call ... Chuck and Joe
Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer might have just pulled off one of the greatest long cons in recent congressional history
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality of American politics. If you received this email - or you are a free subscriber - and you’d like to subscribe: you can sign up below.
The Friday Zoom Chat is back! I’ll be joined tomorrow at 12:30 PM by my good friend Tom Schaller to talk midterms, polls, and whether this weird campaign cycle is upending our political expectations. The link is here. I am looking forward to seeing you on Friday!
Mitch McConnell Just Got Played
Earlier this week, I started working on a grand opus explaining all the ways that I was wrong about Senator Joe Manchin and my expectation that he would support some part of President Biden’s legislative agenda.
Then this happened …
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key centrist Democrat, announced on Wednesday that he had agreed to include hundreds of billions of dollars for climate and energy programs and tax increases in a package to subsidize health care and lower the cost of prescription drugs, less than two weeks after abruptly upending hopes for such an agreement this summer.
The package would set aside $369 billion for climate and energy proposals, the most ambitious climate action ever taken by Congress, and raise an estimated $451 billion in new tax revenue over a decade, while cutting federal spending on prescription drugs by $288 billion, according to a summary circulated Wednesday evening.
The product of a deal announced by Mr. Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, it would reduce the federal deficit by about $300 billion, while seeking to push down the cost of health care, prescription medicines and electricity.
Meanwhile, back at Truth and Consequence’s palatial headquarters.
I want to say that I never wavered in my belief that Manchin would eventually come around, but the newsletter is called Truth and Consequences, and thus, I cannot tell a lie. Two weeks ago, Manchin announced that he was pulling out of budget talks because of his concern that billions in new climate spending would further increase inflation. As far as I was concerned, that was the end of negotiations. Manchin was out, and the budget deal was dead.
Then on Wednesday, he did a 180 and is now supporting more than $350 billion in climate spending — and for a bill, I kid you not, called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
So what the hell happened? I have a theory … and I’m pretty sure this speculation in the New York Times is not it:
One possible clue to Mr. Manchin’s change of heart came in a line of his joint announcement with Mr. Schumer that they had secured a commitment from both Mr. Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California that Congress would approve a separate measure to address the permitting of energy infrastructure, potentially including natural gas pipelines, before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Manchin likely could have gotten this deal two weeks ago when he initially pulled out of the talks.
But less important than “why” Manchin changed his mind is the question of when — and how the timing of yesterday’s announcement coincided with Democratic efforts to pass more than $50 billion in new spending for the semiconductor industry.
The legislation, known colloquially as the CHIPS Act, has long had bipartisan support. Then three weeks ago, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he would block the legislation if Democrats pursued a “partisan reconciliation bill” — like the one Schumer was negotiating with Manchin, which can be passed with a simple majority.
It was a threat that raised the ire of Joe Manchin.
Sen. Joe Manchin said on Monday that he's not dissuaded by threats from the top Senate Republican leader to sink a bipartisan bill strengthening economic competitiveness against China.
"I'm not walking away if anybody's gonna threaten me or hold me hostage, if I can help the country," the conservative Democrat told reporters. "And if they want to play politics and play party politics, shame on 'em."
Manchin added it was "so wrong" of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to issue threats to sink the bipartisan USICA legislation, which would boost federal investment on emerging technologies like computer chips.
Manchin’s complaints came on July 11.
Then three days later, he shocked his fellow Democrats by announcing that he could no longer support the climate provisions he’d been negotiating with Schumer, which, in effect, killed the reconciliation deal.
Then on July 18, Republicans suddenly began singing a different tune on CHIPS. According to the Associated Press:
Key Republicans are warming up to passing a bill that provides roughly $52 billion in incentives for the semiconductor industry now that Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has quashed the idea of imposing higher taxes on the rich and corporations as part of a separate Democratic-only effort.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas … said on the Senate floor Monday that Manchin’s announcement on taxes means “we’re in a posture where we can go forward with the chips funding and other related provisions.” (bold italics added).
Eight days later (Tuesday), the Senate broke a Republican filibuster on the CHIPS Act and, on Wednesday, at around 12:30 PM, voted on final passage of the legislation.
Four hours later, Schumer and Manchin dropped their bombshell.
None of this is a coincidence. Neither was the fact that the two men had a press release announcing the deal locked and loaded or that they released the full 725-page bill several hours later. Let me assure you: this didn’t all happen in the four hours between the vote on the CHIPS Act and Schumer and Manchin’s announcement. Seven hundred-page bills don’t get written that quickly. This deal had been worked in advance. And the announcement purposely came after the CHIPS Act passed so that legislation would not be imperiled.
We still need to learn critical details about how the budget deal came together, but one thing is obvious: Schumer and Manchin pulled a fast one on McConnell. They’ve been sitting on this agreement for days and somehow miraculously kept it quiet on Capitol Hill, which traditionally leaks like a sieve. Then they waited to spring until after McConnell could no longer follow through on his threat to kill CHIPS.
McConnell was outplayed. There’s no other way around it, and Democrats have every reason to take a few moments and savor the schadenfreude, as they did five years ago!
And listen, you don’t have to believe me on this. Today, Lousiana Senator John Kennedy basically came out and said it:
"They sucked Republican votes up like a Hoover Deluxe and then got their votes and then bam, announced this new tax increase," said Kennedy. "We look like a bunch of – well, I’m not going to say what we look like."
But to me, the fascinating question is not necessarily, “when did Manchin change his mind” but rather, “did he change his mind at all?”
Maybe Manchin reversed course on the climate provisions sometime after the 14th. Maybe the public backlash got to him. Maybe after meeting with Larry Summers this week, he was convinced that the bill wouldn’t further spike inflation rates. We know that environmental experts, business leaders, and his fellow Senators continued lobbying the West Virginia senator on the importance of the climate provisions. One thing we know for sure about Manchin: even the silliest, most illogical explanation could make sense.
It is also possible that Schumer and Manchin reached an agreement before July 14. But knowing that if they went public, McConnell would potentially kill the CHIPS bill, they instead announced that the talks had faltered. Doing so would allow CHIPS to pass, and as soon as that happened, they could unveil their reconciliation deal … which, of course, is precisely what happened. That would be an epic long con involving keeping all this a secret, not just from the press but also from Schumer and Manchin’s fellow Democrats. It would mean Manchin allowing Democrats to unload on him for two weeks (as they did) — all the while knowing that once CHIPS passed, he would go from zero to hero practically overnight. It’s hard to believe that’s what happened, but if it did …
However, this did go down, one thing is clear: waiting to announce the budget deal allowed the Democrats to do a complete end run around McConnell and the GOP and pass two crucial pieces of legislation.
Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman would be so proud.
So too will future generations, who may look back at this deal — which has the potential to unlock trillions in private sector investment in the green economy and reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent over the next decade — as the one that helped avert a climate catastrophe.
What’s Going On?
Climate activists are pretty stoked about the Manchin-Schumer deal.
Mike Pence sold his soul to Donald Trump, and he didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt.
Doctors are increasingly being forced to choose between protecting their patients or themselves. Not surprisingly, they are picking their latter.
Sometimes when I read what’s happening in red state America, I have to remind myself that I’m living in the 21st century.
Many thanks for this week's tutorial or perhaps better described as "a spot-on analysis of what Joe Manchin has been up to these last several weeks". I've been reading your columns since the Boston Globe days and thoroughly appreciate Truth and Consequences -- unique insights, a wry sense of humor, and a must read to share with others! Keep writing!
In this case Michael, the Van Halen cover of "Eruption/You Really Got Me" is the better choice! https://youtu.be/OCwigPhpiXs