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Voices: Mitch McConnell is trying to tank Biden’s agenda — by using Joe Manchin

·3-min read
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President Joe Biden is heading to Saudi Arabia and Israel this week – but back in Washington, his domestic agenda is also facing a series of crucial tests in a month that could make or break the future of his administration.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is due to release the June data for its latest Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation. While there is some evidence fuel prices are going down, many voters continue to worry about rising gas and grocery prices: a New York Times/Siena College poll found that 15 per cent of registered voters consider it the biggest problem facing the country right now, followed by the economy overall.

That same survey showed that 64 per cent of voters who would participate in a Democratic primary want the party to nominate someone other than Biden. It also showed that only 33 per cent of voters approve of Biden’s job performance. Some Democrats might find comfort in the fact that 44 per cent of voters would pick Biden against former president Donald Trump, but that number is well within the 4.1 per cent margin of error.

Put together, these are dismal numbers for any sitting president, especially given Biden should be able to count on an incumbency advantage. That means that he needs to look like he is actually trying to pass legislation – and that in turn requires action in Congress.

Fortunately for Biden, it looks like Democrats in the Senate might be moving toward some kind of deal.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who unceremoniously killed Democrats’ Build Back Better legislation in December, has been negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a pared-down spending package. The conservative Democrat from West Virginia has previously cited his concerns about inflation as why he hesitated about additional spending, but he told Manu Raju of CNN that he is open to including subsidies for Obamacare and a prescription drug pricing plan. At the same time, he said it was too early to pass the legislation before the August recess.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, possibly sensing an impending deal, threatened on the Senate floor that going forward with the scaled-back spending bill – which Democrats hope to pass on a party-line vote through budget reconciliation – would threaten talks on the United States Innovation and Competition Act.

The legislation – which focuses on competitiveness with China and investing in semiconductor manufacturing, supply chain security and research and development – has been a top priority for both parties. The House has already passed similar legislation in the form of the COMPETES Act, meaning Congress’s two chambers need to negotiate the differences between the two passed pieces of legislation for it to receive a final vote.

“Our side cannot agree to frantically steamroll through delicate bipartisan talks in order to meet an artificial timeline,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Monday. Still, he knows Democrats want to pass the legislation, as do many Republicans. And as Sophia Cai at Axios reported, the bill is already playing a role in Ohio’s Senate and gubernatorial campaigns.

It is unclear whether McConnell could actually tank the legislation. But he clearly senses this is an opportunity to tank Biden’s all-important domestic agenda, and he is trying to find a way to hit close to Manchin’s home state. McConnell specifically railed against tax hikes and mentioned how “half of all the employment in the entire state of West Virginia” comes from pass-through entities.

But so far, Manchin isn’t taking the bait. “I’m not walking away if anybody’s gonna threaten me or hold me hostage, if I can help the country,” he said. “And if they want to play politics and play party politics, shame on ‘em.”

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