The Perils of High-Low Bargaining in Politics

DC Politics

  Little Rock      Senator Manchin is all about West Virginia.  Talk to people in that small state, and they all have a Manchin story.  He regularly calls into the popular middle-right talk radio station.  He’s out and about.  Hey, people living in Washington, DC, have summer homes and getaway cabins in West Virginia.  It’s not a long commute home for him from the US Senate to someone’s front porch or side street.

Outside of West Virginia is a different matter entirely. He’s pretty much owned by the coal and extraction industries, but so are lots of people in his state, so it’s not that big of an “oh, my” moment for them.  Manchin has consolidated lots of power as a blocking back in the middle of the road, which means he’s pretty much ticking off both sides, but especially folks passing on the left, who have seen President Biden’s various spending packages, , including the current $3.5 trillion social services infrastructure bill, as a historic opportunity.

After hemming and hawing for some time, he now has said that $1.5 trillion is his top number for the social services infrastructure package, pretty much leaving proponents to swallow hard and forcing them to bargain with themselves for what items to drop.  Truthfully, before he even put his number on the table, Democrats were already huddling and debating what to drop, like dental and vision for Medicare versus expanding coverage to all states.  Manchin’s tendency to specialize in high-low bargaining means that there will be more crying and gnashing of teeth.

The looser cannon in this middle of the road mess, supposedly anti-spending advocacy, is the Senator from Arizona, who is an announced “aginer” without any number attached.  She’ll ride with Manchin.  Krysten Sinema is a contradiction to me.  I don’t know her, but years ago, she friended me on Facebook, as a progressive local pol in that state.  Now, she poses as a moderate, conservative even in a state going bluer by some measures.  She’s not a poster child for principled politics, but we’ll see where she comes down on high-low West Virginia Joe.

Here’s the irony and problem once again.  A trillion hard shovel infrastructure with half of that for new spending plus even $1.5 trillion for services infrastructure is still a lot of money, friends, so the spending argument is specious.  Manchin is also aligned it seems with other Democrats on where to garner the revenue to pay for the package, so that’s good.  Sinema, who knows still?

The problem with high-low bargaining, especially in politics, is that for all of the hand wringing by the press and pundits about Speaker Pelosi and President Biden being “humiliated” by this process, both of those veterans know that any deal at any number is a signal accomplishment for both of them.  Mr. High-Low Joe knows that, too.  If he gives the President another half-a-trillion to push it up to $2 T out of the $3.5T proposal, and they both head to the bar, scarred but happy.

The rest of us in this process are left to mop up the floor and go on about our lives wishing it were all different and a kinder, gentler country to live in, but knowing in our hearts that it takes a different politics to get that, and we’re not there by a long shot yet, for all the hoot and holler, from both left and right.