Joe Manchin’s decision on Sunday to oppose the Build Back Better Act is a service to the country, sparing it from huge tax increases and new entitlements that would fan inflation and erode the incentive for Americans to work. Paradoxically, it is also a blessing for Democrats if they get the message, and it offers President Biden a chance to reboot.
“My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country more vulnerable to the threats we face,’’ the West Virginia Democrat said in a statement after announcing his opposition on Fox News Sunday. “I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hard-working American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores and utility bills with no end in sight.’’
He’s right on every point. He also referred to “geopolitical uncertainty,’’ especially regarding China and Russia, noting that passing the bill would make it harder for the U.S. to respond rapidly to “these pending threats.’’ This is a wise warning that the U.S. cannot finance both a runaway entitlement state and an adequate national defense in a dangerous world.
All of this brought the predictable consternation from progressives, with a furious Bernie Sanders denouncing Mr. Manchin and promising retribution in West Virginia. It’s a hollow threat. West Virginians opposed the BBB bill by about 3 to 1 in a recent poll.
Mr. Sanders demanded an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor, and Mr. Manchin said he’s fine with that. As we’ve written, bring it on, and make Senate Democrats running for re-election in 2022 vote on it. Don’t be surprised if such a vote never happens.
The same media that cheered Mr. Biden’s entitlement ambitions as the second coming of FDR are now blaming Mr. Manchin for hurting his party. But where were they when we warned that Mr. Biden and Democrats in Congress were offering a radical agenda that far exceeded the mandate of their narrow victories in 2020 and the grasp of a 50-50 Senate? The media’s progressive bias again misled Democrats into thinking they would carry the day.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, refused to take Mr. Manchin’s red lines seriously when the West Virginian wrote them in the summer. Mr. Schumer kept looking over his shoulder at a potential primary challenge in 2022 from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Now we’ll see if AOC challenges him anyway as he tries to pick up the pieces.
As for the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had her Members vote to pass tax increases and $5 trillion in spending that will not become law. She had promised her swing-district Members she wouldn’t do that as she did when they voted for a climate bill that failed in 2010. Then she did it anyway.
Reps. Josh Gothheimer (New Jersey), Henry Cuellar (Texas) and many others will now have to defend a bill that Republicans can accurately say was too radical to pass. This is Mrs. Pelosi’s fault, not that of Mr. Manchin, who was honest about his objections from the start.
We have to admit that Mr. Manchin’s defection also vindicates Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s strategy to support an infrastructure bill that showed bipartisan Senate deal-making is possible. We don’t apologize for opposing that bill on the merits; it contains hundreds of billions of dollars in wasted spending. But Mr. McConnell calculated that sometimes you have to sacrifice a piece to win the chess match, and the GOP leader read the West Virginian well.
The silver lining for Democrats is that this gives them a chance to face political reality before they leap off a cliff. The Democratic left must now confront the limits of their power. Mr. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren thought they could bully their agenda through a 50-50 Senate, though they had both lost to Mr. Biden in the 2020 primaries. Their failure to narrow their ambitions doomed the bill.
Yet they somehow persuaded Mr. Biden that he had to govern from the left, in what has proven to be a catastrophic misjudgment. Someday we will learn why Mr. Biden made that decision, though perhaps it is as simple as the fact that throughout his career he has followed his party rather than lead it.
White House Chief Of Staff Ron Klain and domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, the lead architects of this misjudgment, should tender their resignations so Mr. Biden can get advisers willing to govern from the middle. He can start by focusing on the main concerns of voters: coping with COVID-19, reducing inflation, and at least trying to do something to restore order at the border.
The response of many readers will be that this is impossible since Mr. Biden is too weak a leader to pull off such a course correction. Perhaps he is. But we’re not about to cheer lead three more years of presidential failure. Mr. Manchin offers Democrats a lifeline back from the abyss.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board published this editorial on Dec. 22.