Sens. Maggie Hassan, Mark Kelly and Catherine Cortez Masto have been awfully quiet. All are up for re-election in 2022.
By Kimberley A. Strassel Wall Street Journal, Nov. 18, 2021
The Beltway press corps continues to hound Sen. Joe Manchin for every-other-minute updates on his thinking about the Democrats’ proposed $1.75 trillion spending bill. Sen. Maggie Hassan has never had it so lucky.
Ms. Hassan, believe it or not, has far more riding on the outcome of this reconciliation bill than the senator from West Virginia. She’s the one up for re-election next year, and her New Hampshire seat will be one of the toughest for Democrats to hold. Yet good luck finding evidence Ms. Hassan has made any real demands about the contours of the legislation. Good luck finding Ms. Hassan speaking much about the partisan bill at all.
It’s not as if she can’t drive a bargain—or is shy about taking credit. She was among the core negotiators of the recently signed infrastructure bill, and this week she proudly accompanied President Biden to his first event touting that legislation, on a bridge in Woodstock, N.H. The president gave her the first shout-out of his speech, praising her for corralling “bipartisan support” for the bill. His talk was notably light on references to his bigger budget blowout. No doubt Ms. Hassan preferred it that way. (Ms. Hassan’s office didn’t reply to an email asking how she views the bill’s effect on inflation or its partisan nature.)
This Senate Democratic caucus isn’t divided into liberals or moderates as much as into doers and hiders. In the former camp are progressives, Mr. Manchin, and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, all doing pitched battle over the biggest proposed alteration to U.S. government reach in decades. In the latter are several of the most vulnerable Democrats whose seats are up in 2022—skulking in corners, happy to let their fellow “centrists” take the slings and arrows involved in making the bill less bad.
Compare and contrast the Arizona delegation’s members. Ms. Sinema is getting harassed by activists and facing threats of a 2024 primary challenge over her demands that the bill be reduced in size and stripped of onerous tax hikes. She is daily pummeled for not being more “open” about her requirements. Meantime, Sen. Mark Kelly, up for re-election next year, has yet to muster a concrete public position on most anything concerning the bill’s size, shape or timing.
Mr. Kelly did declare in October that he could perhaps see the “value” of “means-testing certain things” in the bill—though he didn’t give an example. And this profile in noncourage came only after Mr. Manchin made clear he’d insist means-testing be in the bill. Mr. Kelly more recently trumpeted his support of a provision allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Beyond that, he has largely been quiet on the uber-progressive bill.
Nevada’s Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was among the “centrists” invited to the White House in October to discuss the bill. Yet her contribution appears to begin and end with her successful killing of a small provision to establish a new royalty on hardrock mining. This “moderate” otherwise appears to be good with . . . whatever. Three and a half trillion? Sure. Half that? Sure. Paid family leave? Sure. No paid family leave? Sure.
The shadow strategy is notably different from that of vulnerable House Democrats. Members such as Florida’s Stephanie Murphy and Maine’s Jared Golden have openly broadcast their concerns with elements of the legislation and held up a vote on the bill. Much of this is for show, as Mrs. Pelosi will ultimately frog-march them into a vote. But they will at least be able to claim to constituents that they made the bill “better.”
The Senate hiders are instead relying on Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema to save their bacon, and they already owe the pair some thanks. If Democrats do get legislation over the line, a $1.75 trillion blowout will be slightly less toxic in their home states than a $3.5 trillion one. They may also be spared ownership of some ugly tax hikes and huge new energy fees. In the meantime, they didn’t have to water anything down themselves, thereby avoiding the fury of progressive activists. Savvy, if spineless.
The skulkers’ political bet is that they can get through this ugly fight with the minimum of fuss, and then campaign on the most popular provisions and their other bipartisan achievements. They are counting on the press to continue giving them a pass—in aid of their re-election—and that’s certainly worked so far. Don’t bank on Ms. Hassan getting grilled on the inflationary fallout of this bill anytime soon.
It’s nonetheless risky, as it assumes voters are clueless. The Virginia gubernatorial results ought to disprove that notion. A recent poll by MBE Research found that Mr. Manchin’s approval among West Virginia voters is nearly double (60%) that of Mr. Biden (32%)—a clear appreciation for his open criticism of the reconciliation bill, which 74% of West Virginians oppose. Every member of the Democratic Party will ultimately own this bill.
If they are really lucky, Mr. Manchin will kill it. Chances are that a half dozen or more Democrats are silently and cynically praying for exactly that. Just don’t ask them to take a stand themselves. They are too busy reminding voters of their bipartisan credentials to protest the most partisan exercise of power of their Senate careers.
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