Senator Kyrsten Sinema loves a spreadsheet—especially a spreadsheet that outlines her limited imagination. Axios reports that the Arizona Democrat is gleefully referring to her spreadsheets as she challenges President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget, which includes proposed tax hikes for corporations and the wealthy and increases spending on childcare, health care, education, and environmental matters, all of which have suffered a blow during the Trump years. But while most Democrats in the Senate rally around the proposal, Sinema is turning up her nose and, according to Axios, applying an “accountant-like focus on the bottom line.”
Lucky for her, misery loves shit company: Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, is bristling at the budget as well. On Sunday he said he cannot possibly support the budget’s pricetag and cited concerns over raising the corporate tax rate above 25 percent. He even suggested that the proposal will have to be reduced to as little as $1 trillion for him to even consider supporting it.
Sinema and Manchin are not the only Democratic lawmakers with reservations about the bill; they’re simply the two who are preternaturally resistant to any serious pushing and prodding from their Democratic colleagues. It’s not even necessarily the politically smart move: In both Arizona and West Virginia, the senators’ constituents are reportedly growing annoyed with the game they keep playing. And while this stubbornness has granted them an alarming amount of power in the Senate—which is likely the whole point of their charade—Manchin and Sinema’s obsession with maintaining the perceived support of their constituents comes at the expense of the very people they claim an interest in protecting.
This was evident most recently in Manchin’s critique of the child tax credit. Since July, the government has been sending a majority of American parents monthly cash payments, an attempt to slash child poverty. So far, it’s incredibly popular and is a monthly godsend to families. Democrats hope to extend the program permanently, but the payments could stop after December if Congress doesn’t pass legislation to help keep it going.
Manchin, who originally supported this arrangement, is now skeptical of the program in its current form, citing concerns that it isn’t “needs-based” enough.
On Sunday, he appeared on CNN’s State of the Union, complaining that households earning up to $150,000 receive monthly checks just like a $40,000 household. Families with higher incomes receive far less money each month than lower-income families, but Manchin’s apparent willingness to topple a successful program because some people who may not need the extra money are receiving it is absurd. Even more ghoulish is his insistence that the program not only be more needs-based, but include work requirements as well.
“There’s no work requirements whatsoever, there’s no education requirements whatsoever, for better skill sets,” Manchin told CNN. “Don’t you think, if we’re going to help the children, that the people should make some effort?”
In reality, as the Huffington Post noted, “Requiring earnings would cut off the poorest parents and probably water down the policy’s poverty-reduction power.” Given the United States’ alarmingly high child poverty rates, the turbulent pandemic economy, and the general lack of social safety nets in place in this country, insisting that one make a steady income to provide the most basic needs for a child is ludicrous and dismissive of the reality of the nation’s parents. A large percentage of Americans would struggle to pay for a sudden $400 emergency; providing a few hundred bucks for parents to provide for their children is a drop in the bucket, and its the least the wealthiest nation on the planet can do for its people.
But Manchin and Sinema have no issue with throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In fact, they delight in holding the baby hostage at every turn. There’s a deep cynicism here and a lack of care that comes into play with each attempt to trim, dilute, or completely ignore even the limpest approaches toward long overdue improvements in everything from voting rights to infrastructure; so much so that Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, Manchin’s own Democratic colleague, said pointedly when asked if he aligns with Manchin on reconciliation: “Are you crazy? Are you trying to get me shot? I’d never, ever want to be aligned with Joe Manchin. My wife would divorce me.”
Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently offered “lots of love” to the two for their opposition to Biden’s spending bill. Anything McConnell finds worthy of praise is twisted by default, and yet, this is the bind Democrats find themselves in: dealing with two petulant egoists who care more about what Fox News or professional moderates think of them than the people they’re meant to represent.
Either Democrats can continue hoping and praying that these two see the light, or they’ll realize that it might be time to use any and all resources available to them to pick up loyal Senate seats elsewhere. Because relying on these two chuckleheads for progress is a fool’s errand.