Haggling over trillions while goals are abandoned

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks at a press conference outside his office on Capitol Hill on Oct. 6, in Washington, D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS

This editorial was published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board.

Democratic negotiators appear close to a deal that effectively would halve the original $3.5 trillion asking price of the social spending bill originally advanced by progressives. Disappointment abounds among progressives who were hoping for maximum financial impact on the lives of lower-income Americans. But since no one anywhere has the mental computing power to fully grasp what a trillion of anything is — be they dollars, stars or grains of sand — non-progressives should be forgiven for failing to get worked up because the final package will only — only — total around $1.75 trillion.

The deal, which the Republican minority announced in advance it would reject, exacts some hard concessions from progressives simply to win the approval of two holdout Democratic senators. Some of the concessions needed to be made because they reached too far and involved spending too much money. In other cases, concessions demanded by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were selfish and short-sighted. But since the bill has no chance of passage without their support in an evenly split Senate, they get to have undue influence over the final product.

Particularly galling is Manchin’s insistence on eliminating caps on methane emissions and measures to reduce coal consumption to reduce global warming. West Virginia is one of the nation’s largest coal-producing and -consuming states. Manchin is subordinating the planet’s survival to his own political survival. Delaying action on climate change issues might be the most politically convenient route for Manchin now, but that doesn’t make his obstinacy excusable.

Part of the progressives’ own miscalculation was in their attempt to throw too many shopping items into the same spending bag. A good example was their bid to include language opening a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which the Senate parliamentarian correctly rejected because it veers too far from the main subject matter — the budget — of the spending bill.

Manchin’s and Sinema’s obstinacy serves neither their party nor the nation when it comes to making a long-term investment in children’s futures. Of particular concern is the haggling over federal funding for universal pre-kindergarten. Such a measure not only would help working parents reduce their child care costs but also would put low-income children into classroom settings at an early age. Instead of perhaps being parked in front of a television set in day care, pre-K classes are designed to boost vocabulary and early reading skills, so kids are better able to perform at grade level through elementary school.

Cutting such funding is short-sighted, as is the effort to curtail the government’s ability to save billions of dollars by negotiating Medicare prescription drug pricing. Manchin and Sinema would rob the nation of future rewards just to advance short-term political goals that are just as unfathomable to American voters as are the trillion-plus-dollar figures still under negotiation.

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