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Littwin: The art of persuasion is on life support. Biden’s safety net bill isn’t feeling too good, either

In Colorado, mandate-hesitant Jared Polis is reduced to begging the unvaccinated to get jabbed as the virus returns to the state with a vengeance

If there’s anything we’ve learned in the past week, it’s that the art of persuasion — already in trouble — is now on life support. That’s especially dangerous in Colorado, where ICU beds are suddenly hard to come by.

I shouldn’t have to do too much persuading to make this case. I mean, it’s all right there in front of us, even if Jared Polis, for one, seems to be having some trouble seeing it. As does, for that matter, Joe Manchin.

We’ll start in Washington, where the current state of dysfunction runs so deep that Joe Biden, the longtime, self-proclaimed Senate deal maker, has persuaded exactly no Republicans and is struggling to keep his own party together — he needs all 50 Democrats, using reconciliation — to get his social safety-net program passed. I didn’t watch Biden’s CNN town hall Thursday night — there was baseball, people — but does anyone think he moved the needle? 

Mike Littwin

If the safety net bill does get passed — and it probably will, eventually, although with a price tag at about half of what Biden wants — it looks as if it will pass with the extended child credit tax, the wildly popular law that Michael Bennet strongly supports and touts at every turn, having been eviscerated.

In Colorado, Polis is back to basically begging people to get vaccinated as COVID hospitalizations have risen to near-emergency level even as cases are falling in much of the country. Of course, Colorado had gotten pretty much a free pass when the delta variant was storming through the South and Midwest.

Polis is pleading with the unvaccinated people to get vaccinated. “Never in my wildest imagination did I think there would be Coloradans that didn’t want to protect themselves,” Polis said, thinking back to the vaccine’s early days. He’s also begging the vaccinated to get boosters and everyone to wear masks as needed.

Meanwhile, Douglas County schools are suing the new county health department for ending the masking requirement in schools. This is an issue that Polis could solve with a quick signature on a small piece of paper — mandating masks statewide for school children — but refuses to do so. 

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And why is there no restriction on the unvaccinated gathering in the thousands at indoor sporting events? With one signature, the mandate-hesitant Polis could address that as well. 

And back in Washington, where I still am fairly certain some safety net bill, with close to $2 trillion in spending, will eventually get passed, the election reform bill — meant to counter the voter-suppression laws being passed in red states — came to a vote in the Senate. Fifty Democrats voted for it. Fifty Republicans voted against it. With Republicans filibustering, requiring 60 votes to get anything passed, the tie goes to GOP voter suppression. 

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What’s most discouraging about this is that Democrats allowed Joe Manchin, the filibuster’s greatest defender, who insists you don’t have a democracy without it, to write a compromise bill that he kept saying could attract Republicans. It didn’t. Not a single one.  And now Biden, who has also defended the filibuster, seems ready to support a filibuster carve-out for voting rights and maybe some other rights, too. This was his bid to hold on to House progressives. But will Manchin go along? As of today, there’s no indication he will.

For the safety net bill to pass — at something like $1.75 trillion over 10 years — it needs Manchin’s vote. Manchin has insisted on the lower number. He has taken a cleaver to green energy and renewables. Manchin told Bernie Sanders — who is trying, in very un-Bernie-like manner, to fashion a compromise — he could live without any of the Dems’ programs being passed. 

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With Bennet, Sherrod Brown and Cory Booker leading the way in the Senate, Biden got a one-year, extended child tax credit — which would lift 45% of disadvantaged children out of poverty — passed as part of his stimulus bill. And it looked as if it would be made permanent in the safety-net bill. That is, until Manchin got his hands on it. 

As of now, the children’s tax credit would be means-tested — costing, Bennet says, as many as 37 million children to lose out on the benefit.  And at a time, Bennet notes, when “families in Colorado are killing themselves to afford some combination of health care, early childhood education, child care and higher education.” Bennet is trying to get Manchin to agree to extend the credit for as many years as possible.

Bennet had been saying there was no reason — “There’s no new information” — to prevent a bill from being passed this week. So much for that. And you’ll remember the cost of the long process needed to pass Obamacare and how its popularity sank with each passing week as then Nebraska Sen. Max Baucus insisted he could get Republican votes for the bill by dumping the public option. Are we seeing a repeat performance here as Dems try desperately to hold onto the slimmest of majorities in the Senate and House in next year’s midterms? Bennet, it might be noted, is one of the senators up for re-election.

It’s not just Manchin. There’s another Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema, who has vowed to protect Donald Trump’s recent tax giveaway to the wealthy. With a few not-exactly-dramatic changes, the tax hike on the rich would pretty much pay for the entire bill. Raising taxes on the rich is even more popular than the expanded child-credit tax, and now Democrats are desperately seeking alternatives. And Sinema, of course, also opposes a filibuster carve-out.

So, there’s a Democrat in Manchin who looks back on LBJ’s Great Society and figures that a Good Enough Society is fine with him. And there’s a Democrat in Sinema who looks back on FDR’s New Deal and says that the deal America has now with the 1 percenters and 5 percenters doesn’t need reforming. 

Are you persuaded yet that persuasion isn’t good enough? If you are, I’m afraid that’s the easy part. Because now all that’s needed is for someone to figure out something that will work.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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