Monday, December 20, 2021

In Defense of Joe Manchin

Sure you hate Joe Manchin. But maybe you shouldn't. It is not only he who has not played this straight and he is not actually wrong about everything.
From the excellent newsletter Full Stack Economics:
"Manchin has had a concrete position on the bill’s structure for quite some time⁠—that its revenues should run concurrently with its spending. That position has simply been ignored by Democratic leadership, who have pushed a bill that is extraordinarily front-loaded and laden with expiring programs.
This is a well-known budget trick I call the frontload gambit. The idea: if you set up a bunch of expiring provisions and use up your budget space as fast as possible, you can hope for them to be extended by a future Congress.
At the behest of House progressives, the current version of the Build Back Better bill this budgeting trick aggressively. Expansions to the child tax credit end after one year, improvements to the Affordable Care Act after four years, and subsidies for childcare after six.
The problem is that this trick isn’t particularly subtle. Anyone who doesn’t notice it is deliberately choosing not to notice it. But Manchin cares about it, and he sees it right there in the CBO score....
There are plenty of reasons to be peeved with Manchin. His skepticism of the transition to clean energy seems retrograde, and his long-run debt concerns are overrated. But on this point, he obviously has the better end of the argument.
First, now is not a particularly good time to have a frontloaded fiscal impulse. As I wrote back in October, the economy is in a short run bottleneck but there is ample borrowing capacity in the longer run. Adding a surge of spending now and pulling back later is perhaps the exact opposite of what should be done.
Second, programs that are fully paid for can be made permanent under the Senate’s reconciliation procedure. Given the likelihood that Republicans will take over one or both houses of Congress soon, it would be better for Democrats to lock in some gains.
Third, it would become a lot easier to explain. The broad, scattershot approach has made it difficult to focus in on a few popular changes and make the bill a referendum on those.
And finally, it would provide a good excuse to cut some programs that aren’t ready for primetime⁠—like the poorly-conceived childcare proposal⁠—and focus on shoring up the more solid ones."
Kevin Drum:
"Republicans claimed—and Manchin agreed—that the BBB bill as it stands is basically just an effort to game the CBO scoring system. And they're right. Everyone does this, including Republicans in their 2017 tax cut, but it's nonetheless true that the rat's nest of programs that start and stop, along with funding that's backloaded, is designed to give the impression of low cost even though Democrats clearly want to try to make all of the programs permanent at some future point.
Manchin wanted a "clean" bill. That is, a bill that included a smaller number of program but funded them permanently. The irony is that this is literally what every single liberal analyst wanted too. Lefties and centrists all agreed that this would be best, since permanent programs can be designed better and are much harder for Republicans to cancel down the line.
And yet that was apparently never on the table. Why? Because analysts may have loved the idea but politicians hated it. It would have meant killing all but two or three programs, and it was impossible to get agreement within the Democratic caucus about which ones to keep. Everyone had their own pet program.
So there you have it. If we had done it Manchin's way, we would have kept his vote and we probably would have gotten a better bill out of it. I wonder why this was so impossible?"
Finally Manchin did actually have a pretty decent counteroffer which was rejected:
"Sen. Joe Manchin III last week made the White House a concrete counteroffer for its spending bill, saying he would accept a $1.8 trillion package that included universal prekindergarten for 10 years, an expansion of Obamacare and hundreds of billions of dollars to combat climate change, three people familiar with the matter said."
So before you join in the next Two Minutes Hate on Manchin maybe think a bit about what and why you're hating.

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