Democrats Even Madder at Manchin

The West Virginia Senator has pulled away the football yet again.

This caricature of Joe Manchin was adapted from a photo in the public domain from US Senate and Governor Jim Justice’s Flickr photostream.

ABC News (“Democrats vent their fury as Joe Manchin shelves action on climate change“):

Democrats are sounding dire warnings after Sen. Joe Manchin tanked their hopes of acting on climate change.

“We’re all going to die,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., told reporters when asked about the consequences of Congress failing to act.

Yarmuth’s remarks on Friday captured the cocktail of anger, frustration, resentment and powerlessness that many Democrats felt after Manchin, D-W.Va., took a one-man wrecking ball to what’s left of President Joe Biden’s agenda, dealing a heavy blow to their big policy ambitions and further complicating a tough midterm election landscape for the party.

“It doesn’t matter what I advise. The Senate’s the Senate. It doesn’t matter what any of us do. Apparently, it doesn’t matter what the administration does. We’ve got one person who’s trying to dictate policy for the entire country and that’s a shame,” Yarmuth told NBC News, describing the mood in the party as “incredible frustration.”

“Unfortunately, we have one Democrat who thinks he knows better than every other Democrat,” he said.

Given how Manchin has made his money, it’s quite reasonable to question his motives. But it’s just silly to say that he’s “dictat[ing] policy for the entire country.” He’s one vote out of a hundred in one half of the legislative branch of government. It just so happens that there are 50 Republican votes and the Democrats need Manchin and every single other Democrat to go along to get anything done. To the extent he opposes the policy, the other party has a majority.

As for “think[ing] he knows better than every other Democrat,” his job is to vote his conscience and/or the interests of his constituency, not that of his party leadership. Our system isn’t and isn’t supposed to be a parliamentary one. (And all of this elides Kyrsten Sinema, the other recalcitrant Democrat.)

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., openly questioned if Manchin should keep his gavel as chairman of the Senate energy committee.

It’s perfectly fair to ask that question. Republican leadership has stripped power from a handful of their caucus who have dared to stand up to the Big Lie and attempt to steal the election. Manchin isn’t entitled to lead a key committee.

But, when evaluating the prudence of hardball tactics, it’s important to consider the recursions. Stripping Liz Cheney of power isn’t particularly dangerous, considering she’s in an incredibly safe Republican seat. Manchin could simply flip to the Republican caucus if he wants to. And there’s essentially zero chance West Virginians send a different Democrat back to the Senate if Manchin isn’t their standard bearer.

In a radio interview Friday with WV MetroNews, Manchin confirmed that he told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Thursday he was ready to vote to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices and extend funding under the Affordable Care Act. But he said he wanted to hold off on clean energy funding and other provisions in the Biden agenda bill until at least mid-August, citing inflation concerns.

“I said, ‘Chuck, it’s wrong, it’s not prudent to do the other [items] right now,'” Manchin said, adding that if inflation comes down, “we can come back the first of September and pass this piece of legislation, if it’s a good piece of legislation.”

In a statement, Biden vowed that “if the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment.”

In the meantime, he said, the Senate “should move forward” with the parts that Manchin has agreed to — a bill on drug pricing and ACA funding and “pass it before the August recess, and get it to my desk so I can sign it.” Without naming Manchin, he said even that smaller bill will “lower the cost of prescription drugs and health care for families” and “reduce the deficit and help fight inflation.”

So, again, it’s reasonable to wonder if inflation is really driving Manchin here. But, regardless, of course the Senate should just move forward with the parts of the bill they have the votes to pass. What choice do they have?

Around Washington, some Democrats were befuddled by Manchin citing inflation as a reason to hold off on the package. In December, he rejected the even larger Build Back Better Act over inflation concerns and restructured negotiations around a narrower set of provisions that included clean energy funding and taxes.

According to a Democrat familiar with the conversations, the party had been crafting a climate and energy bill around Manchin’s demand that it not be inflationary, by dropping the items he didn’t want and including provisions that he supports.

In recent days, Schumer had offered Manchin a proposal to approve the climate provisions Manchin backed without the taxes that he was “recently skittish” about, like a corporate minimum tax. But Manchin rejected that deal, said the Democrat, who discussed sensitive negotiations on condition of anonymity.

I haven’t been in the room for these negotiations. But if Manchin indeed said he would support these provisions and Democrats have spent months crafting a bill around his preferences, they have every right to be angry that he’s reneging at the eleventh hour.

House Ways & Means Committee Chair Richard Neal, D-Mass., said he remains “ever so hopeful” for a larger deal, but that he believes drug pricing and ACA funding would represent progress. He said he believes Manchin is still negotiating in good faith but that it’s time for the party to chart a path forward.

“You go to the altar — at some point you need to say ‘I do,'” Neal said.

Again, there’s little alternative.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who chairs the progressive caucus, said the failure to deliver an economic and safety net package will harm Democrats in the midterm elections.

“It has already hurt Democrats,” Jayapal said. “The single biggest thing that has hurt our chances for the midterm — and I still believe we can win, I want to make that clear — but the number one thing is the failure of Senator Manchin and the Senate to act on passing some version of Build Back Better.”

The likely failure of a larger package leaves many House Democrats in the lurch, vulnerable to attack ads from Republicans on pieces of the nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better Act they voted on last year, but without the tangible new benefits that a law would provide.

Jayapal argued that the broader bill would have eased inflation and pocketbook pressures through funding for child care and universal pre-K to help parents, along with housing aid for lower-income Americans — provisions that Manchin has said should be excluded from the Democrats-only package.

Jayapal’s analysis is mostly wrong. Universal pre-K and various welfare programs are not going to win over a single swing voter. But she’s almost certainly right that the failure to pass so much of Biden’s agenda has demoralized Democrats. Why bother to vote if, even if you win, you don’t get the policies you were promised?

Democrats, not unreasonably, were exultant when they won both of the Georgia runoffs and therefore had a Senate “majority” thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. But they didn’t count on Manchin and Sinema generally being unsupportive of the agenda. In a 50-50 Senate, every vote matters and the party simply couldn’t get unanimous support within their caucus for most of the agenda. And that’s to say nothing of the filibuster, which allows the minority party to effectively veto most measures even if every Democrat is on board.

Jayapal ain’t wrong here, either:

Jayapal said Manchin’s recent demand to shelve climate change funding and tax increases on the wealthy didn’t surprise her after he nixed the Build Back Better Act in December, stunning the White House in the process. She said she would evaluate a potential slimmer deal with prescription drug savings and health insurance aid if and when the Senate passes such a bill.

“He has shown that he doesn’t know how to close a deal, or he doesn’t want to close a deal, and that you can’t trust him,” Jayapal said, of Manchin. “You can’t negotiate with someone like that.”

Manchin claims otherwise:

In the local radio interview, Manchin said Democrats are trying to “put all this pressure on me,” but added: “I am where I have been. I would not put my staff to this, I would not put myself through this if I wasn’t sincere about trying to find a pathway forward to do something good for our country.”

Again, I haven’t been in the room. But, time after time, key Democrats have said that they felt lied to by Manchin in these negotiations. I’m inclined to believe them, given that it’s hardly in their interest to further alienate him.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    If I were cynical, I would say that Manchin’s true motive in dragging out the negotiations was that he was driving up the price his “no” vote would cost his patrons.

    I guess I am cynical, because I would bet real money that’s exactly what happened.

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  2. Argon says:

    He’s one vote out of a hundred in one half of the legislative branch of government. It just so happens that there are 50 Republican votes and the Democrats need Manchin and every single other Democrat to go along to get anything done.

    Manchin is a PITA. That none of the Republicans would do anything to address climate change is an abomination.

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  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    For the past year and a half, Manchin has played the game of moving the goalposts and when his demands are met, quitting. Followed up with making noise that he’s open to a different compromise. He did it again in the interview that you sited, indicating that he may be ready to talk again after seeing the July inflation numbers.

    No, there’s nothing Dems can do about it now, but there are indications that Dems may actually pick up seats in November or if they do go into the minority, Manchin’s vote becomes superfluous, so indeed, strip him of his chairmanship or committee assignments at that time.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Given that inflation is too much money chasing too few goods and services, a tax increase would be deflationary, given that it will offset the deficit.

    Dems also need to change the strategy on climate change and begin focusing on what needs to happen to mitigate the effects that are happening and what that cost will be. Given that the timeline to reach the outlined goals is now less 10 years, it will take the US longer than that to approve the projects, never mind build them.

  5. Have I mentioned that we have non-hierarchical parties in the United States wherein each member is beholden not to the party as a whole, nor to leadership in the chamber, but to the primary voters who control the given politician’s access to the ballot, and therefore their access to re-election?

    I feel like I may have mentioned it.

    (This comment is not aimed at James, BTW, but just to the four winds).

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  6. Have I also ever mentioned that the disproportionate allocation of power in the US Senate gives specific sets of citizens disproportionate power and therefore makes governing much, much harder?

    Maybe I have.

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  7. (Maybe, just maybe, we will, as a country, start blaming the game and not just the players. The players are playing the game we’ve given them to play, and they are playing to win for themselves in the way that the game incentivized those wins).

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    What @MarkedMan: said. Manchin is doing this because he’s getting paid to do this. And seems to be cleverly milking it for every nickel he can get while he can, because, as @Sleeping Dog: notes, this opportunity likely ends, one way or another, in January, and Manchin knows it. I’m not in a position to dig into Manchin’s finances. NYT, WAPO, and many others are. But they won’t. Acknowledging the role of money in our politics seems to be almost as out of bounds as Dominionism.

    James, you did a nice job of explaining how it came to be that Manchin is, actually, dictating policy. Or more correctly dictating an absence of policy, drift. The policy desired by Chuckles Koch et al, which I expect NYT would say is just coincidence.

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: While I agree with your general point about the flaws in our electoral system, it seems to me that regardless of the type of system you have, if there is voting involved and it is close, the fence sitters will wield disproportionate influence. Given this the flaws are manifested not in Manchin, but in the fact that Republicans vote as a block.

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  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    There was an article last weekend, that discussed how a growing number of voters are becoming frustrated with the system, though there is a wide range of views as to what the problem is an how it should be fixed. Given how few of our citizens have any clue about how government functions and how the political process works, that’s not surprising. (Our dumping Civics as a HS requirement chickens, are coming home to roost.)

    Given the complexity of the problem and how complex the solutions are, it’s doubtful we’ll effect change short of enlightenment of our political and social leaders to do the ‘right’ thing, or a cataclysm. I anticipate a cataclysm.

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    Actually the Times has delved into Manchin’s finances, most recently; https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/27/climate/manchin-coal-climate-conflicts.html

    And there are other articles.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Yeah, I read that back in March. It’s all his personal and business finances. Yes, his anti-environment stance supports his business. But he’s blocking the whole Dem agenda. I’m alleging he’s being paid for doing exactly that. I won’t say bribed. Bribe is such an ugly word, and under current law and interpretation, and with top level lawyers, so hard to prove. But every time he offers to hold the football again is another funding cycle.

  13. Argon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Have I mentioned that we have non-hierarchical parties in the United States wherein each member is beholden not to the party as a whole, nor to leadership in the chamber, but to the primary voters who control the given politician’s access to the ballot, and therefore their access to re-election?

    Susan Collins, aka the last remaining Republican US Senator in New England is very concerned despite handing the anti-abortion faithful what they wanted. You’d think that she would be very, very concerned about the general election and what might burnish her reputation among all voters.

    Or, maybe Mitt Romney, who has a fairly solid lock on Utah, might notice that the Great Salt Lake is drastically receding, along with other drought issues allocation the state, and feel something might be done before Salt Lake City has to relocate due to the toxification from the nearby, dehydrating lake.

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  14. Just nutha ignint crackerd says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I don’t know where you’re living, but we’re still teaching Civics here. It’s one of the only classes that seniors report as popular and interesting in their final year.

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  15. @MarkedMan:

    the fence sitters will wield disproportionate influence.

    This will be true in any system, to be sure.

    But the question remains, and this gets to the hear of a lot of our back-and-forths: Manchin is the marginal vote note because he occupies a true national median. He occupies that role because of the way the seats in the Senate are distributed and the relative weights given to the citizens in the 50 states.

    And yes, the GOP votes in a bloc. It is in their interests to do so (indeed, one would expect the opposition party to behave that way). But, of course, the main issue for my position is the problem is not their voting as a bloc, it is that as a bloc they represented a lot fewer citizens than the other bloc.

    And before you say it: no, I am not arguing that a better Senate design would guarantee a better outcome, but I will note that in this case, if the Ds in the Senate had voting strength closer to their actually representation, we likely would have a better outcome.

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  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Argon: I’m sure that Susan Collins and Mitt Romney are very concerned about their election prospects and the conditions in the Great Salt Lake. Alas, it is probably their concern for their election prospects that keeps them from acting on their concerns in a manner that would allow them to address the problems the nation is facing.

    TL/DR: Congress is broken. It doesn’t work anymore. And voters in aggregate keep voting for dysfunction.

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  17. @Argon:

    You’d think that she would be very, very concerned about the general election and what might burnish her reputation among all voters.

    I would note that Senator Concerned’s approach to all of this has been to her electoral advantage to date and that she clearly is calculating that it will continue to do so in the future.

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  18. @Sleeping Dog:

    Given how few of our citizens have any clue about how government functions and how the political process works,

    This is a major problem and is part of why I harp on it as much as go (recognizing that I only reach so many people and often only repeat customers at that). Also: this is why I find “change is hard/impossible” response to be irresponsible.

  19. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha ignint crackerd:

    Glad to hear that. Unfortunately Civics has been dropped from many curriculums around the country. Perhaps your local is part of a reemergence?

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Two constitutional amendments that I’d like to see Dems propose are the right for citizens to vote and an explicit right to privacy. Both are pretty straight forward and understandable, and would garner support from the populace if not the politicians.

    Regarding addressing the structural issues, given the alignment of interests, I struggle to see how we get from the present, to a new system, short of a violent interlude that may include an extended period of authoritarianism. I’m not anticipating that the better angels of our political and social leadership will emerge to get us there.

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  20. senyordave says:

    All this political analysis is fine for hypothesizing, but in the end he’s just a lying sack of crap.

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  21. MarkedMan says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Given how few of our citizens have any clue about how government functions and how the political process works, that’s not surprising. (Our dumping Civics as a HS requirement chickens, are coming home to roost.)

    I’m not sure this is solvable. It may just be human nature and we have to accept.

    The NY Times recently did two focus groups, one with participants who were pro-choice one anti-Abortion. (No subscription needed.) I know most people here mock these exercises but I find them fascinating. They serve as a window into the 80 to 90% of the people who are just not that engaged. Most of the participants were unaware of the state of the laws or the basic facts surrounding abortion as a physical process. And their positions often didn’t make internal sense. A pro-choice woman who thinks that abortion is definitely murder but should be left up to the woman, or the states. Another who thinks abortion should be legal, but there should be limits on the number a woman can have so they don’t “take advantage”.

    We can wish that people understood our government better and they were more engaged so that we had better governance, but that may be in the same category as wishing that people were smarter so they wouldn’t fall for scams. Or wishing they were taller so they would play basketball better. While you can change things at the margins with education, in the main we have to accept human nature and work from there.

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  22. MarkedMan says:

    I will note that in this case, if the Ds in the Senate had voting strength closer to their actually representation, we likely would have a better outcome.

    100% agree. In this case, and in many others, my idea of the better outcome is being thwarted by the imbalance in representation. I’ve never argued against this, and have always agreed that if a government is to maintain legitimacy it must fairly represent all the people.

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  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    We are trapped in our own Constitution, unable to escape that trap because of our own Constitution. We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.

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  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Not a reemergence; rather an always been. On the other hand, Washington State has been electing socialists Democrats to high offices, including the Superintendent of Public Instruction, for most of my adult life.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: “A pro-choice woman who thinks that abortion is definitely murder but should be left up to the woman, or the states.”

    I don’t see any cognitive dissonance in those parallel thoughts. Given that the fertilized ovum will become a person should it survive to full term, “murder” may well be as accurate a designation as “day surgery procedure” (while agreeing that “should it survive…” is doing a lot of heavy lifting). On the other hand, it is not my job to decide whether pregnancies should go to full term or not, but it may be that the state has a compelling interest in making sure that procedures are carried through in a safe and medically responsible manner.

    But I will agree that it’s much easier to decide that someone else’s musings on a topic “don’t make internal sense.”

  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: And not even any mirrors on the ceiling or pink champagne on ice.

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  27. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan:

    And their positions often didn’t make internal sense. A pro-choice woman who thinks that abortion is definitely murder but should be left up to the woman, or the states. Another who thinks abortion should be legal, but there should be limits on the number a woman can have so they don’t “take advantage”.

    There’s a “fun” example in all the people trying to claim that a raped 10 year old girl didn’t really have to go to another state and the Ohio abortion ban would have allowed her to have an abortion.

    Because it’s not an abortion when you’re ten, or something. Or health of the mother clearly becomes relevant long before the health of the mother is impacted. Meanwhile, Indiana wants to find a way to prosecute the doctor who performed the abortion.

    People don’t carefully think through the consequences of what they support, they choose identity. And then try to wrap the logic and facts into knots trying to make it fit, are completely blind to it, and get defensive when it is pointed out.

    And these aren’t just stupid people. Smart people do it all the time, although I am mysteriously unable to come up with any examples in my own life.

    It’s one of the things that frustrates me about Michael Reynolds’ religion rants — what he is describing as a willingness to believe nonsense has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with human nature. (Religion can provide an off the shelf default identity, but lots of things act the same way)

    And, back to Manchin, I suspect that he isn’t being a Machiavellian villain working his machinations (Manchinations?), but rather has adopted an internal identity as “not like those other Democrats” and as soon as there is consensus among Democrats and only Democrats, feels a need to run away.

    It’s a shit thing in a Senator.

    (If Angus King declared himself to be an Independent Republican who caucuses with the Democrats, would that be enough to give Manchin emotional cover of bipartisanship?)

  28. Kurtz says:

    @Just nutha ignint crackerd:

    I don’t know where you’re living, but we’re still teaching Civics here. It’s one of the only classes that seniors report as popular and interesting in their final year.

    On the whole, I doubt that Civics in high school gets deep enough into the weeds to find the effects of incentive structures. More likely, in most places, it is general and reflective of American Exceptional ism.

    Maybe I’m just cynical. It’s hard for me to imagine most teachers doing much more than repeating the se tired BS justifications for Senate representation, the filibuster, and the EC.

  29. Ken_L says:

    It’s not clear there are 50 Democratic votes in the Senate for any bill at all. Sinema is in the pocket of the drug manufacturers, and may well oppose any attempts to cap prices. Unlike Manchin, who seems to delight in giving the media daily briefings on dissension within his own party, Sinema seldom reveals her position on anything until it’s time to vote on a bill.

    The basic source of this legislative fiasco was the terrible decision of party leaders to agree to demands from the tiny Sinema/Gottheimer faction to split the original BBB bill into two parts. All their woes have flowed from that and the broken promises and empty guarantees that accompanied it.

  30. Franklin says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Relax, you can check out anytime you like.

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  31. Lounsbury says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Grid upgrade enablement. The American grids – not even one national grid (itself a shameful issue) is in a shockingly backward state. This is one of my professional focus areas, I manage hundreds of millions of euros for RE investment – not USA of course, but tracking USA issues is useful. And I am in the face of similar binding constraints in my focus markets (ironically these are developing markets but then the USA has began to ressemble one politically).

    Observing the Democrats focus on the wrong bloody things/tools in this area is quite frustrating. Utility scale RE in solar PV and wind is now price competitive to installed carbon fuels but the issues of intermittancy, grid stability [a technical issue that becomes very problematic over 20-30% RE], and effective dispatching are critical. And the US grids are broadly not ready. And of course you’ve developed global champion status on multi-level red-tape to get any kind of infra project going.

    Forget bloody mandates and blah blah – focus on banal “generation source neutral” issues for grid reinforcement, interconnexions, upgrading and above all expansion of long-distance transmission. Manchin & Co. would have no basis to block directly – it is a boon to lowest cost producers and if his coal people delude themselves into thinking they really remain that… use it against them. The private econoics of RE now – at utility scale (for people not to delude themselves) – are such that it is grid infrastructure and permitting that are constraints – a type of constraint that the Democrats focus is not addressing.

    Fast-tracking law for RE or new generation tech to extent Federal can cut through the absurd thickets of review red tape that has become the USA kudzu weed, that could be worth tilting at windmills with Mr Manchin, but perhaps could attract a certain profile of Republican on board. (here recognising my grasp of what is the possible on the US Federal override to streamline for RE or broader low-carbon energy is weak).

    @Gustopher:

    People don’t carefully think through the consequences of what they support, they choose identity.

    We are in the end chimpanzees with excessively large chunk of after-market grey matter bolted on. Pretences to idealised rationality remain just that, pretences. For all of us if with different blind spots as to where the pretence is (not to exclude for removal of any doubt I am poking you lot, myself).

    As the political comment, an ongoing failure of the Lefty Left, infected as it is with academic influence, is to keep playing a Ideas game rather than the Marketing game the Repubicans have rather fully embraced.

  32. Skookum says:

    Forget bloody mandates and blah blah – focus on banal “generation source neutral” issues for grid reinforcement, interconnexions, upgrading and above all expansion of long-distance transmission.

    I agree with you, but your input reminds me of the the agony of passing the Affordable Care Act.

    1. The Democrats could never explain the basics of insurance and how forming risk pools that included the young and or healthy as well as the less healthy would lower medical costs for all over the course of a generation.
    2. Republicans understood the merits of the ACA, but blocked it because they wanted President Obama to fail.

    Poor communication of science and economics coupled with political sabotage for short-term gain prevents policies that improve the life of current and future constituents.