Manchin-Schumer: The Strange Timing

Yesterday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he had reached an agreement with Senator Joe Manchin on a downscaled version of President Biden’s “Build-Back-Better” initiative. The new measure, referred to as the Inflation Reduction Act, would include significant investments in health insurance, renewable energy, and deficit reduction. See,

Spirited Reasoners want to know what took those two senators so long to reach this compromise. Or, to put the question more forcefully: Why now?

Three possible scenarios come to mind. The first two involve reading tea leaves (aka opinion polls) relating to this year’s November elections. Conventional wisdom currently has the Democrats winding up with 51 or 52 seats compared with the Republicans 48 or 49. See,

First Scenario: What if Senator Schumer approached Senator Manchin with the latest poll information? Their conversation might have gone something like this:

            Schumer: Have you seen the latest polls?

Manchin: Nope. What’s the news?

Schumer: The news is that if we end up with 51 or 52 Democratic senators in the next Senate, then you’ll have lost your role as chief spoiler and power broker.

Manchin: So what?

Schumer: So, there will be no reason for me to be generous with you in terms of committee chairmanships and other perks. We’ll be able to enact favorable legislation without you.

Manchin: You wouldn’t dare.

Schumer: Of course I would. But on the other hand, if you and I can announce a compromise on the President’s Build-Back-Better legislation, then I can assure of better treatment.  

Second Scenario: What if a delegation of Senator Manchin’s big corporate donors came to him with the same information?

            Donor: Have you seen the latest polls?

            Manchin: Nope. What’s the news?

Donor: The news is that if we don’t come up with a decent compromise that protects the fossil fuels industry, the newly elected Senate will come up with something far worse in 2023.

Manchin: You mean you want me to cave?

Donor: Better to have an energy bill with a few protections for Big Coal and Big Oil than one without anything at all.

Third Scenario: What if it just took this long for Senators Manchin and Schumer to slog through the old Build-Back-Better legislation, point by point, before arriving at the current compromise? The trouble with this explanation is that modern-day members of Congress employ a host of staffers whose job it is to hammer out legislative compromises every day at record speed. These specialists are experts at what they do. In the past, we have seen complicated omnibus legislation pass through both houses in a matter of hours. Senators can work as fast as they choose to work. In other words, if Senator Manchin had wanted a compromise six months ago he could have had one then.

Spirited Reasoners might come up with competing scenarios that make more sense than these three to explain the strange timing of the breakthrough. Until then, I’m betting it’s a combination of the first two.