President Biden’s schedule for Monday included a White House meeting with four House members and four senators on the administration’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure bill. On the GOP side, Representatives Don Young and Garret Graves joined Senators Roger Wicker and Deb Fisher, while Democratic Representatives Donald Payne and David Price joined Senators Maria Cantwell and Alex Padilla.
The choice of these congresspeople has everything to do with the committees they serve on. GOP Representatives Young and Graves both sit on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as well as the National Resources Committee. Wicker and Fisher sit on the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with Wicker also holding a seat on Environment and Public Works. Democratic Rep. Donald Payne Jr. joins Young and Graves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Senator Padilla sits on the Public Works Committee and Budget Committees, and Senator Price is a member of the Appropriations Committee.
Transportation and Infrastructure, Environment and Public Works, Natural Resources, Budget, and of course Appropriations, where the money is. If you’re going to push a massive infrastructure bill toward passage, these are the committees to speak with, to be sure. Additionally, every Republican invited to the meeting has supported infrastructure bills in the past.
It was notable, however, that Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia rock in the road, was not on the invitation list. Negotiating with the proper committees is absolutely required, but Manchin has deliberately made himself the Indispensable Man on infrastructure, and virtually every other piece of legislation the Biden administration seeks to pass. If Manchin and his small cohort of allies are not satisfied, nothing will move unless Biden can scrape some Republicans to his side during reconciliation. Easier to find hen’s teeth in the cloakroom.
Trying to grasp Joe Manchin’s motives is like trying to see the bottom of a mud puddle. On the surface, the Democratic senator from a bright red state is all about bipartisanship; he insists that all legislation must come with a rousing verse of “Kumbaya,” even in the face of years of implacable Republican resistance. This devotion to bipartisanship is Manchin’s main stated reason for defending the parliamentary wrecking ball known as the filibuster.
“Generations of senators who came before us put their heads down and their pride aside to solve the complex issues facing our country,” Manchin declared in a recent Washington Post op-ed. “We must do the same. The issues facing our democracy today are not insurmountable if we choose to tackle them together.”
Sure thing, Joe, and if my cat had wheels, she’d be a wagon. Here on planet Earth, such lofty balderdash has been ground to a fine meal by rock-ribbed obstructionists like Mitch McConnell, whose entire game plan since 2008 has been to filibuster every Democratic piece of legislation that dares to brave the daylight.
On the infrastructure bill, Manchin’s main complaint is the tax Biden seeks to levy on the ultra-wealthy in order to pay for it. Biden wants a 28 percent tax, but Manchin has declared that number to be no good, and wants it to be set at 25 percent. It may not seem like much, but that 3 percent funding gap represents billions of dollars that will have to be found elsewhere.
Money, it seems, has more to do with this situation than tax policy.
“Manchin’s move could also particularly benefit private equity firms that have converted from partnership structures to C Corporations to take advantage of President Donald Trump’s tax law, which dropped the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent,” report David Sirota and Andrew Perez for The Daily Poster. “Such conversions allow private equity firms to attract capital from a wider array of institutional investors who may not have been permitted to invest in partnerships. But private equity firms had not converted until a lower corporate tax rate made the switch even more profitable. The conversions are effectively permanent.”
According to OpenSecrets.org, Manchin has received almost $212,000 in campaign donations from private equity and investment industry members like Ares Management. The Carlyle Group and the Blackstone Group, two industry titans, have donated millions to a variety of Democratic Senate PACs that supported Manchin’s reelection bid in 2018.
Lawyers and law firms is another industry that has donated significantly to Manchin between 2015 and 2020, to the tune of nearly $800,000, according to OpenSecrets.org. According to further reporting by The Daily Poster, the legal industry did very well by Trump’s massive tax cut, and has developed deep ties with a number of Democrats in order to keep the tax rules as they are.
“In 2017, as Congress debated tax legislation, top lobbyists for the legal industry threw more money behind Republicans, and the industry as a whole spent more than $16 million on lobbying that year, the most since 2011,” continues The Daily Poster. “Biden’s new tax proposal would undo the Republican tax breaks — at least partially.”
There’s a lot of smoke here. It takes a special kind of dunderheaded credulity to believe massive compromise is possible with Congress in its current condition. Manchin is saying all the right things about it, but he is talking about a world that, for the time being, simply does not exist.
The longer Manchin harps on this, and the more obstructionist he becomes, the thinner his arguments will wear. There is already great momentum to shatter the filibuster, or to go around it with a Rule 304 maneuver. There is equally great momentum behind this infrastructure bill, as evidenced by today’s White House meeting. If Manchin continues to thwart these efforts while relying on the same flimsy reasoning, people need to look behind the curtain and see who is really pulling the strings.