Opinion | Can Democrats Make a Deal With Mitt Romney?

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By Michelle Cottle

Ms. Cottle is a member of the editorial board.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This aphorism now leaps to mind every time I hear that the White House and congressional Democrats are trying yet again to win Senator Joe Manchin’s backing for this or that proposal.

Be it Build Back Better, voting rights, a new, whittled-down version of Build Back Better or whatever agenda item President Biden hopes to advance, at some point, the story line always seems to come back around to: But Mr. Manchin, the conservative West Virginian, has objections — accompanied by a reminder of how, in this evenly split Senate, Mr. Manchin is Washington’s real decider.

At some point, this dance starts to feel less like a commentary on Mr. Manchin’s politics than on his Democratic colleagues’ desperation.

Which is why it has been a nice break to watch the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, working to hammer out a new Covid relief deal with Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah. Certainly, this wasn’t Mr. Schumer’s first choice: Democrats had wanted to move this pandemic package along party lines, as part of the government funding bill being passed using reconciliation. But that plan abruptly fell to pieces in the House. Now any relief bill will need to clear a 60-vote threshold and thus require significant Republican support.

The prospects for success remain shaky. The package is expected to get squished from $15.6 billion down to around $10 billion. And some Republicans have expressed doubts about whether we really need to be throwing more money at things like prepping for future variants. (Let no one accuse Congress of taking the long view!) All last week, Mr. Romney and Mr. Schumer swapped suggestions for how to pay for the package. Assuming something does pass the Senate, it will still need to make its way through the House. With Congress, failure is pretty much always an option.

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