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Manchin gives Republicans new leverage in infrastructure talks

In the infrastructure talks, Democrats have enjoyed some leverage. Joe Manchin seems eager to take that leverage and give it to Senate Republicans.


A month after President Biden and a group of senators reached a bipartisan agreement on an infrastructure package, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tried to advance the debate last week. Republicans refused, saying they needed more time to wrap up the details of the deal.

GOP senators were surprisingly specific about the timeline: Democratic leaders could expect a completed compromise by Monday, July 26.

That was yesterday. There's no completed compromise.

The bipartisan infrastructure deal appeared to be on shaky ground Monday as Democratic and Republican negotiators struggled to reach agreement on lingering disputes, most notably how much money to spend on public transit.

Yesterday morning, Democratic senators presented Republicans with a revised framework -- what was called a "global" agreement -- that sought to resolve each of the outstanding issues. GOP senators rejected that, too.

As the exasperating talks continue, a nagging question has lurked in the background: what happens if the negotiations fail to produce a result?

In theory, Democrats have long enjoyed some leverage: if Republicans refused to accept a bipartisan compromise and a series of concessions, Democrats could simply pursue their own bill through the budget reconciliation process. Indeed, it's been a key GOP motivation for participating in the talks in the first place: Republicans know that Dems can govern without them and a GOP filibuster wouldn't stand in the way.

With this in mind, if the bipartisan process collapses, Democrats have the option of simply taking the negotiated framework, adding it to their own reconciliation blueprint, and passing one big bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) seems eager to take that leverage and give it to Republicans. Punchbowl News reported this morning:

Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), one of the key Democratic moderates, had a warning for Schumer, the White House and all his progressive colleagues: "I would say if the bipartisan infrastructure deal falls apart, everything falls apart." ... "Both of them are extremely important," Manchin added. "When one falls apart, how do you move the other one?"

In other words, the conservative Democrat -- whose quote no doubt made the rounds on Capitol Hill this morning -- is prepared to give Republicans an enormous amount of power over the process. Manchin's line, if these quotes are accurate, tilts the negotiating table in the GOP's favor: the West Virginian is effectively telling his own party, "Find a way to make Republicans happy or Biden's domestic agenda is finished."

The lesson for GOP senators is obvious: if they want to kill the Democrats' reconciliation bill, all they have to do is say no to the bipartisan compromise.