Joe Biden’s Deal That Wasn’t

President Joe Biden delivers remarks about his Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure deal from the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., October 28, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In an earlier post, I noted how Senator Joe Manchin had raised severe concerns about the Build Back Better framework that, were he to hold firm, could mean its death knell. But given the extent of Manchin’s reservations, it raises another question: What the heck was Joe Biden talking about last week?

Before leaving for Rome, the White House released a framework that officials tried to present as some sort of breakthrough in ongoing Congressional negotiations. While Biden did not make the explicit claim that he had secured 51 votes in the Senate, the heavy impression was that there was more or less agreement on the broad strokes and they were just ironing out a few minor details.

“After hearing input from all sides and negotiating in good faith with Senators Manchin and Sinema, Congressional Leadership, and a broad swath of Members of Congress, President Biden is announcing a framework for the Build Back Better Act, the White House release claimed. “President Biden is confident this is a framework that can pass both houses of Congress, and he looks forward to signing it into law. He calls on Congress to take up this historic bill – in addition to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – as quickly as possible.”

Biden himself spoke as if he were taking a victory lap at the end of marathon talks.

“I want to thank my colleagues in the Congress for their leadership,” he said from the East Room. “We’ve spent hours and hours and hours over months and months working on this. No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that’s what compromise is.  That’s consensus.  And that’s what I ran on.”

He went to Capitol Hill to meet with House Democrats in what was supposed to be a speech followed by a vote passing his infrastructure bill.

Instead, Biden took off to Rome and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed the vote yet again. Still, Democrats gave the impression that they were just working on a few odds and ends and expected to vote Tuesday. Progressives claimed they were all in and just waiting for Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema to publicly commit to the framework.

But now that Manchin has said that the framework is full of “shell games” and “budget gimmicks” to hide the true cost of the proposal, last week’s theatrics look even more absurd.

Biden had met with Manchin and Sinema a number of times in the lead up to the framework announcement. Either Manchin has changed his tune dramatically, or what we got from Biden last week was one giant bluff to make it appear that there was some progress on the framework so that progressives would support his $550 billion infrastructure bill so he could have some accomplishment to brag about.

At this point, it’s unclear why anybody would trust any announced deal that is not simultaneously accompanied by an explicit statement of support from Manchin and Sinema.