IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

As Manchin balks at Dems' agenda, moderates have the most to lose

If Sen. Joe Manchin wants more ideological allies on Capitol Hill, he's moving in a counter-productive direction.
Image: Abigail Spanberger
Abigail Spanberger greets people upon arriving at a campaign event at Roma's Italian Restaurant in Louisa, Virginia on Nov. 1, 2018.Michael Reynolds / EPA

After Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced his opposition to the Build Back Better package, the responses were predictably swift. President Joe Biden's White House team made little effort to hide its outrage. Progressive House Democrats wasted no time in condemning what they saw as a betrayal.

Among Senate Democrats, from the leadership to rank-and-file members, there was widespread frustration and no small amount of bewilderment.

The conservative Democrat didn't do his constituents any favors, either.

But purely as a matter of electoral politics, perhaps no constituency was more concerned with Manchin's declaration than his ostensible allies: The Democratic moderates, centrists, and conservatives who need Build Back Better to pass.

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, for example, is a centrist lawmaker from a competitive district in an increasingly competitive state. The congresswoman issued a written statement yesterday that read in part:

"During this process, we should not ignore that Members of the Republican Party have wholly refused to work with Democrats on these priorities. But after months of negotiations, one Democratic U.S. Senator has now summarily walked away from productive negotiations. That is unacceptable, and we cannot act like this moment is the end. Children, families, and the future of our planet are counting on us. In the weeks and months ahead, I will keep working to deliver these meaningful investments to the people of Virginia."

Around the same time, Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, the Democratic co-chair of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus, re-endorsed the BBB blueprint, adding, "I will do my part to help bring everyone back to the table.... The American people deserve no less."

Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, the chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition — the members of which were unanimous in their support for the House bill — said in a separate written statement, "The challenges our country faces are too big and the cost of inaction is too high to throw in the towel on Build Back Better negotiations now.... Americans across the country are depending on us.... Failure is not an option."

In case this isn't obvious, if Manchin follows through and derails the party's domestic policy agenda, it's not liberals who'll suffer politically, since the most progressive members represent the most progressive districts. They will, to be sure, be furious — they care deeply about the substantive benefits included in the Build Back Better legislation — but they're less likely to lose their re-election bids next year as a result of the West Virginian's intransigence.

But consider these developments from the perspective of moderates and centrists. They helped shape the Build Back Better package; they helped pass the bill; and they're counting on the benefits of the legislation to both impress their constituents and boost the economy.

If Manchin kills it, as now appears likely, it's these same Democratic moderates and centrists who'll get cut off at the knees, struggling to explain why their party couldn't deliver on their own popular agenda.

If the West Virginian wants more ideological allies on Capitol Hill, he's moving in a counter-productive direction.