After several months of negotiations, Sen. Joe Manchin jolted Democratic politics last week by dramatically narrowing the scope of the party’s reconciliation package. The conservative West Virginian said he would accept a bill that reduces the cost of prescription drugs and keeps Affordable Care Act subsidies in place for two years — and that’s it.
If Democrats wanted to talk about combatting climate change or rolling back ineffective Republican tax breaks, those other priorities, Manchin said, would have to wait.
There was some question as to whether Democratic leaders would accept such a scaled-back plan. President Joe Biden said he’d take the offer Manchin put on the table, and as NBC News reported, the rest of the party appears to be falling in line.
Democratic leaders have decided to accept an offer by Sen. Joe Manchin and move forward on a slimmed-down bill with drug pricing and health insurance funding — leaving efforts on climate change for another day. Progressive lawmakers are also indicating they’re willing to go along, despite deep frustrations with the centrist West Virginia Democrat.
To be sure, Democrats aren’t happy about any of this. Indeed, as recently as last year, the party was championing a reconciliation package that included, among other things, funding for universal pre-school, an extended and expanded Child Tax Credit, a closing of the Medicaid gap, housing aid, new Pell Grants, and a half-trillion-dollar investment to combat climate change, including massive clean energy tax credits. It was, by any fair measure, a transformative piece of legislation that would have been life-changing for millions of American families.
All of that, at Manchin’s insistence, is gone.
But what’s left isn’t bad. Allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices on prescription medication has been a Democratic priority for many years, and this would make an enormous difference for many consumers.
“Take the wins,” Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the House Progressive Caucus, told NBC News. “We have to be pragmatic in making progress, step by step.”
With this in mind, the Associated Press reported that Senate leaders have scheduled a meeting for tomorrow with the Senate parliamentarian, “who must decide if any provisions should be dropped from the measure for violating the chamber’s budget rules.” (For procedural nerds out there, this is known as a “Byrd bath.”)
Depending on how this process plays out, a Senate vote on the Manchin-approved package is likely to happen next week. Because the Republican minority cannot filibuster reconciliation bills, it will need just 50 votes to advance.
As for the possibility of a climate bill, both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin yesterday suggested the possibility of a different reconciliation bill — if Manchin agrees to a deal.
And if you’re wondering how such a move might be possible, it’s time to revisit Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which I’m sure normal people think about all the time.