Madeleine Kunin: An appreciation for political bargaining

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

How quickly the political winds shifted for President Joe Biden and the Democrats. A few days ago they were sinking knee-deep in the polls because — time after time — they couldn’t muster the votes to turn legislation into law. Sen. Joe Manchin was the villain who blocked almost every piece of Biden’s legacy agenda.

Last Tuesday, at the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden gave the first signing pen to Manchin, who was seated in the front row.  Who would have thought that the two men would see eye to eye over the largest piece of climate change legislation in history? The new law will provide direct help to most Americans. It will reduce prescription drug costs (especially insulin) and health care costs and make a huge investment in clean energy.

Significantly, it will also raise revenue by placing a long overdue minimum 25% tax on corporations and yes, it will reduce the deficit and — we hope — reduce inflation.

How did Senators Chuck Schumer and Manchin move away from a sharp divide to a seemingly smooth accord? 

They didn’t get everything they wanted. Each man had to give up something, even quite a lot.  There was significant trimming of the original Build Back Better bill. I am most disappointed that paid family and medical leave and child care and children’s subsidies fell on the cutting room floor. There has to be a “next time” for these bills. Women must fight, once again, for a seat at the bargaining table.

But we, too, can celebrate the passage of this massive legislation. Possibly, the main reason we can smile today is that these two men — Schumer and Manchin — kept talking, despite their differences. It took a year to get where we are today.

Patience and persistence were essential. Every democratic vote was critical to victory. Progressives and conservatives, both in the House and Senate, stuck together when the votes were counted. Leadership worked.

Political bargaining, like making sausage, is not a pretty process, usually not exposed to the public eye. When it works, we can see the results and applaud.

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Madeleine May Kunin

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