As things stand right now, President Biden's domestic agenda should be thought of in terms of Homer's classic greek epic The Odyssey — namely, the part where protagonist Odysseus is forced to sail his ship through the Strait of Messina, boxed in by the rocky sea monster Scylla on one side, and its counterpart, the whirling maw of Charybdis, on the other. Only, in this case, the narrow corridor through which Biden must navigate his $3.5 trillion — and dropping! — spending bill extends between predictable Republican obstructionism on the right, and two absolute weirdo "moderate" Democrats on the (barely) left.
Folks, I humbly ask: What is Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema's whole deal? I mean, truly, what on Earth are they doing? Like, existentially, what gives?
To be clear, there are some legitimate instances of budgetary haggling and legislative maneuvering at play here. West Virginia's Manchin, as perhaps the most Republican-y Democrat in office today, has made clear that he's not into shelling out the cash to fund the Build Back Better spending bill, which can only pass with all 50 Democrats voting for it through the reconciliation process. And he's evidently more than willing to detonate Biden's accompanying infrastructure bill to move the needle in his direction.
But for all his ghoulish insistence on means testing and work requirements and other traditionally conservative obstacles to simply giving people the funds and resources to make their lives better, Manchin at least understands how to negotiate with real numbers. That would be depressingly reassuring if he weren't approaching his work like the most crooked cop in Prohibition-era Chicago. To wit:
When a senator starts getting all huffy at the fact that he's negotiating a massive bill that could have serious implications for a significant source of his income, that's a sign, to me, personally, that something weird is afoot.
Then again, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained on Thursday: Everything is fine. Everyone's playing nice. Negotiations are moving along swimmingly. This is simply how Italians act.
So, okay, Manchin's willing to play hardball to slim down Biden's spending plans, because he is fundamentally a conservative who doesn't actually believe in expanding social safety nets. At least his is a fairly coherent, reliable sort of asshole-ery. What's Sinema's excuse out in Arizona?
Unlike Manchin, who seems actually interested in passing something, even if that something kind of sucks, Sinema — a one-time progressive! — is just kind of spiraling, without giving negotiators anything to really work with. Worse still, she's being a real dick about it.
What is this Amelia Bedelia-esque nonsense? Is Sinema playing cutesy over a potentially nation-altering spending bill? Or is she actually just an oddball even moreso than her painfully self-conscious "quirky" image would suggest?
Ultimately, it's sincerely disheartening to realize that the fate of a massive, largely popular spending bill that could — in a rarity for politics — actually help people on a significant scale is essentially in the hands of these two weirdos, who seemingly have little interest in anything other than their own self-interest and accumulated political leverage. Then again, that's just Washington, I guess.