The Corner

Fiscal Policy

Schumer Going ‘Full Speed Ahead,’ Unclear Where

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) takes questions as he discusses the Senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget resolution during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., August 11, 2021. (Gabrielle Crockett/Reuters)

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said today that he’s going “full speed ahead” on Democrats’ proposed spending package. In addition to the $550 billion in new spending from the bipartisan infrastructure package, Schumer supports spending another $3.5 trillion.

“Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion” was the headline on West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s September 2 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, so Schumer is going to run into some problems.

“We’re going to work very hard to have unity, because without unity, we’re not going to get anything,” Schumer said. He’s certainly right about that, but they can’t have the requisite unity without Manchin.

Democrats plan to pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which means it would only require 50 senators plus Vice President Harris to pass. “Only” 50, but that’s not easy — every Democrat in the Senate needs to vote for the bill for it to pass. That must include Joe Manchin, who isn’t particularly interested in pleasing anyone outside his roughly R+40 state. His voters don’t want to give Democrats their entire agenda in one massive bill.

Manchin’s op-ed is unremarkable. Its opening sentence — “The nation faces an unprecedented array of challenges and will inevitably encounter additional crises in the future” — is the kind of thing a college freshman writes when he’s trying to make a word count, and there’s not a single memorable line in the whole thing. Manchin doesn’t have to put together a flashy argument. His stance boils down to the shortest sentence in his op-ed: “I disagree.”

That’s his right. He’s a United States senator. He gets to disagree. And with the current partisan composition of the Senate, his disagreement is an insurmountable problem for Chuck Schumer.

The problems for Democrats don’t end there, either. All the focus is on the Senate, but after special elections, the Democrats’ House majority is tiny. If three House Democrats defect, they can’t pass legislation.

If there’s one thing politicians love doing, it’s spending other people’s money. Schumer is likely betting that impulse will eventually take hold and Manchin will be forced into submission. The Democrats have put their entire agenda into the reconciliation bill; if Manchin and other moderate Democrats in Congress are at all sympathetic to their own party, they’re unlikely to ultimately vote against the bill.

But as it stands currently, they have hang-ups, and Manchin’s hang-ups are the first priority. Schumer’s comments today signaled that he doesn’t take Manchin seriously. As long as he doesn’t, though, discussions of the reconciliation bill are purely academic. It’s not going to pass without Manchin’s vote.

Schumer can say he’s going “full speed ahead” all he wants. He currently does not have the votes to go anywhere at all.

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