ANDERSON — A lot of Democrats are mad at Joe Manchin these days. Less than a week before Christmas, Manchin appeared on Fox News to reveal his opposition to President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better initiative.

“If I can’t go home and explain it to the people in West Virginia, I cannot vote for it,” he said, “and I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation, I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.”

The news drew angry reactions from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Minnesota accused Manchin of moving the goal post. “He has never negotiated in good faith,” she said, “and he is obstructing the president’s agenda.”

The reality, though, is that the president’s agenda isn’t all that popular in West Virginia. Donald Trump trounced Joe Biden there with almost 70% of the vote.

That leaves progressives with little leverage in this fight. In fact, making folks like Pressley mad might make Manchin more popular in his home state, not less.

Unhappy Democrats can threaten Manchin with a more liberal primary opponent, but a candidate lined up to the left of Manchin would have no shot at getting elected in West Virginia. It’s pretty simple. Democrats can deal with Manchin or a much more conservative Republican challenger.

The choice shouldn’t be hard.

With Manchin, Democrats have a one-vote advantage in the U.S. Senate. Without him, they’re back in the minority.

Jen Psaki, the president’s press secretary, issued a statement accusing Manchin of going back on his word.

Concerning the senator’s claim that his opposition was based on inflation, Psaki pointed to economists who had suggested the president’s plan would actually ease inflationary pressures in the long term.

“Build Back Better lowers costs that families pay,” she wrote. “It will reduce what families pay for child care. It will reduce what they pay for prescription drugs. It will lower health care premiums. And it puts a tax cut in the pockets of families with kids. If someone is concerned about the impact that higher prices are having on families, this bill gives them a break.”

She discounted Manchin’s concerns about the deficit, arguing that the plan would actually reduce the debt in the long run.

“The Congressional Budget Office report that the Senator cites analyzed an unfunded extension of Build Back Better,” Psaki wrote. “That’s not what the President has proposed, not the bill the Senate would vote on and not what the President would support.”

She also disputed Manchin’s claims about the bill’s climate provisions. “Build Back Better will produce a job-creating clean energy future for this country — including West Virginia,” she wrote.

Psaki suggested Manchin might have trouble explaining his opposition to a bill that would reduce the monthly cost of insulin from $1,000 to just $35. She said he would also have to explain why he opposed a measure providing affordable day care for nearly two million women, and he would have to explain why he opposed a bill to extend the Child Tax Credit, a provision the White House says has lifted millions of children out of poverty.

In spite of the setback, she said, the administration will keep pushing forward. “The fight for Build Back Better is too important to give up,” she wrote.
The task now is to convince Manchin.

During the campaign, Biden touted his skill at finding common ground. Now, he has a chance to show what he can do. He needs to sit down with Manchin and congressional leaders and hammer out a deal.

The president won’t get everything he wants, but neither will Manchin. That’s the nature of negotiations. You give a little to take a little. That’s democracy in action. 

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News.