A Compromise That Isn’t

Terry Schwadron
4 min readNov 4, 2021


Terry H. Schwadron

Nov. 4, 2021

When is a compromise not a compromise?

Apparently when you have Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV., in the room.

At this moment, that’s a big disappointment, among other reasons because it makes Democrats as a whole look feckless in getting their announced plans across the threshold just as voters in Virginia and New Jersey were voting to tell Democrats that they were unhappy.

After last week’s very public, but apparently premature, White House restatement of a reduced social spending bill that we were told was the result of careful negotiations among differing Democrats, the expectation was that a bill for physical infrastructure projects and for a measure largely focused on social spending and climate would move this week.

But Manchin stepped on that understanding again on Monday, telling fellow Democrats to slow down and really understand the financials behind the bill. Along the way, Manchin managed to sideswipe progressives who have been rudely hesitant to pass the infrastructure bill without his commitment for the social services measure and threw the notion that we’re headed toward resolution back into the morass. Yesterday, Manchin salted the wound some more by insisting that that he never had signed off on any compromise.

Just for the record, the trillion dollars on the table for physical infrastructure apparently needs no special financial review, just the trillion plus for social spending that Manchin dislikes. Nor do spending increases for the military.

As it happens, the Congressional Budget Office normally does what Manchin is talking about as soon as it is forwarded a bill. So, Manchin, who is correct in saying that the financials here should be known, comes off as a prissy malcontent who is not getting his way.

Manchin could have what he said he wanted simply by keeping quiet, but he didn’t. Indeed, what’s all the Manchin back-and-forthing been about, if not taxes and spending? If the bill needs adjusting, do so through the endless negotiating, and be done with it, please.

Meanwhile, we still have efforts to put programs jettisoned for compromise back in the bill, further gumming the works.

We Must Have Winners

Because we are habituated in seeing winners and losers, all this seeming dissension was playing out as voters in Virginia and New Jersey were voting in what was seen as a referendum on Joe Biden’s administration. You’d wonder if the results push Manchin to move along towards approval.

From an overly patient White House dealing with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., this latest defection must be a setback. For the rest of us, the question is why the focus is on the stick-in-the-mud rather than on getting something finished and in place.

I don’t care whether Joe Manchin is in the spotlight; I do care that we have some answers to address growing economic divides and to tackle climate issues straight on.

From his remarks, Manchin doesn’t like being seen as the guy who can’t be trusted in a compromise — except that his actions say exactly that.

We don’t know what agreements he and Biden have made, but it is unlikely that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be talking about a vote on the two bills in the House this week unless she had some assurances that the Senate would pass it too, by a single vote.

If there was no compromise, why did we have to endure all the talk about having reached that political plateau. It is exactly this kind of personal grandstanding that gives politics bad odor.

Understanding Compromise

I get that compromise is the meat of politics, or relationships of all sorts. I’ve made peace over time with what workplaces and community life have required, with the give and take of a successful marriage and family life. With government, I’ve waited mostly futilely for all kinds of compromises to include items of importance to me.

So, when Manchin talks compromise, my ears get anxious.

It was Manchin who insisted on compromise for voter rights legislation to get bipartisan support — and the same Manchin who has not brought a single Republican senator’s vote as a result. It was Manchin who insisted on bipartisan compromise for the physical infrastructure — which moves all the climate spending to this second bill, which, magically once again, requires compromise.

Manchin has made clear that he is not liberal, never has been liberal, and that he believes his state supports him. He supports more use of coal, if the myth that coal can be burned cleanly, holds stock in fossil fuel companies, and is among the Senate’s leading beneficiaries of oil and gas lobby money. His daughter is an executive of a company that raised the price of EpiPens to obnoxious levels. And he opposes any bill that might challenge fossil fuel futures or drug pricing.

Compromise is more than doing whatever passes the Joe Manchin personal sniff test.