Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to constituents in his op-ed in the June 6 edition of the Sunday Gazette-Mail, titled “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act.”
But he does not go on to really say why. To tell us why he won’t vote for the bill, he needs to say, at least implicitly, here is the (ostensible?) purpose of the act and here is how the act envisions achieving that. Then argue against either the purpose or the mechanism, and maybe even suggest possible improvements or compromises.
But he does none of this. Instead, he merely repeats several times that any effort should be bipartisan, and, since this one isn’t, well, that’s that.
If your car broke down, you would expect your mechanic to ask questions (e.g., did you hear any unusual noises before it broke?), or he might lift the hood and poke around in the engine innards. Manchin’s stance is similar to a mechanic who stands in front of the car and keeps repeating “well, it’s supposed to work.”
While Manchin shakes his head in bemusement, his colleague, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is talking with President Joe Biden about infrastructure. In this case, we do have some real apparent effort to talk substantively. Republicans want a narrow definition of infrastructure and a less-expensive bill. Democrats have made a counteroffer that meets, to some extent, Republican concerns. One could argue that either side is not acting in good faith but at least this seems to be negotiation.
So let’s try to do what Manchin does not: The goal of the For the People Act, say its originators, is to encourage legitimate voting by removing barriers to voting; the bill’s detractors say the bill will encourage fraud.
Since most of the bill’s provisions have aspects (e.g., vote by mail) that have been field tested by various states, there is a basis for analysis to test both sides’ contentions. My impression is that the Democrats have the better argument here — there is little evidence of systematic fraud and considerable evidence that barriers have deterred voting — but that goes beyond the scope of this op-ed (full disclosure: I am a registered Independent who voted for Manchin).
OK, so there is a standoff. In that case, we might ask which side has the better record of actual cooperation. We now know that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., basically said when the Obama administration began that he would never cooperate with the new president. Never. Under any circumstances.
So here we have McConnell saying “no bipartisan” and Manchin saying “must be bipartisan.” Gridlock.
How will voters react? They might well say that Democrats, although apparently well-intentioned, just can’t get things done. Here is Manchin deflecting (he speaks, irrelevantly, of the filibuster and the Voting Rights Act), and then defying his own party. In addition, a majority of voters favor the bill. Yet, with all of this, gridlock nonetheless. Perceptions of feckless ineptitude would be credible.
So, here you are by the side of the road, sweating in the hot sun, and the mechanic is saying, “Why, I remember a situation much like this a few years back. In that situation, we had to tow the car but, would you believe it, the tow truck ... yada, yada, yada.”
Phooey. Fire your mechanic.