Please, Joe Manchin, Get with the Program

The West Virginia Senator is blowing his chance to be a true leader.

Take, for example, his initial opposition to the COVID relief package. As Bob Woodward and Robert Costa document in their new book, Peril, Manchin was concerned that the package as initially proposed would incentivize people not to work. When I read this, I had to do a double-take to make sure that I wasn’t reading about a Republican, given that this is one of their key talking points when it comes to anything that helps to lift people out of poverty or give them assistance when they badly need it. Nope, instead it’s coming from the man who has been hailed as one of the most powerful people in the Senate, single-handedly capable of tanking his own party’s domestic agenda if it suits him to do so.

What I find especially frustrating about Manchin’s continuing recalcitrance is that it doesn’t even make political sense according to his own terms. Yes, he comes from one of the Trumpiest states in the nation but, and this might come as something of a shock, it’s also the poorest. Meaning, of course, that it would be one of the states that could benefit the most from major investment from the federal government.

Let’s start with infrastructure. If you’ve spent any amount of time in West Virginia, you know that its infrastructure is, to put it bluntly, shit. There are a number of reasons for this, but most of them can be traced in one way or another to the fossil fuel industries that have exploited the state for decades and show no signs of abating anytime soon. Not only do massive coal and oil and gas trucks wreak havoc on roads, the industries in question have spent decades making sure that enormous amounts of money flows right into the pockets of their pet legislators. Add in the fact that they’ve also managed to create a state Supreme Court in their own image, and you have a perfect recipe for disaster. One need look no further than the huge water crisis of a few years ago to see just how bad things can get in a state where regulation of any kind is a bad word and where there is no infrastructure investment to help defray the significant costs created from fossil fuel extraction.

Then there’s the social spending package. For several decades now, West Virginia has ranked near the bottom in all sorts of rankings when it comes to health and well-being. In fact, it’s become something of a running joke for many, including my parents, to say at least not one of the states that are worse off, like Mississippi or Alabama. It’s not that the state’s plight is actually humorous, of course. Instead, it’s more the fact that, if there’s nothing you can really do to change the course of events, you might as well react with a certain form of gallows humor.

More to the point, the population of West Virginia is a rapidly aging one, and it’s one of the only states to lose population over the last 10 years. It’s not hard to see how this is going to affect the lives of its citizens going forward. With fewer and fewer young people moving in — despite the state’s much-publicized efforts to draw in new talent with a variety of incentive programs (which have come in for their own well-deserved criticism) — it’s going to become quite an issue finding enough people, especially qualified people, to take care of the the elderly.

And, of course, it’s also worth pointing out that other programs that Biden has proposed, including paid family leave, would also benefit West Virginians, because it will certainly help alleviate the pressures that are inordinately felt by the working poor. It will come as no surprise to you that there are quite a few of those in West Virginia as well. I’m sure they would like to know that their Senator has their best interests at heart, but his disingenuous claims that he’s wary of supporting legislation that incentivizes people not to work must ring awfully hollow to those who are struggling desperately to make ends meet while also raising a family.

And, of course, it’s also worth pointing out that other programs that Biden has proposed, including paid family leave, would also benefit West Virginians, because it will certainly help alleviate the pressures that are inordinately felt by the working poor. It will come as no surprise to you that there are quite a few of those in West Virginia as well. I’m sure they would like to know that their Senator has their best interests at heart, but his disingenuous claims that he’s wary of supporting legislation that incentivizes people not to work must ring awfully hollow to those who are struggling desperately to make ends meet while also raising a family.

What I find especially galling about Manchin’s continued intransigence is how short-sighted it ultimately is. Part of the struggle that every politician faces is the elaborate juggling act between representing your constituents’ interests and desires and doing what you know to be right for them. Every elected representative knows that all it takes is one wrong move, one unpopular piece of legislation, and they’ll lose in the next election cycle, shut out of the halls of power that they enjoy so much. Manchin is, at the end of the day, a politician like any other, and so it’s easy to see the calculations that is constantly making to ensure that he stays in power. However, at some point he’s got to realize that he has the opportunity to really do something for the people of West Virginia, in the way that Robert C. Byrd did throughout his tenure in that august body. Say what you will about the late Byrd (and he was hardly a saint), but he really did make sure that a significant amount of money flowed into his home state, bringing it into the 20th Century. He understood that his job was to help his state become a competitor in the nation rather than the butt of every joke, and while he may not have succeeded as much as he would have liked, he still did a lot of good.

Manchin, on the other hand, seems to have allowed his newly-minted position of “most powerful man in the Senate” to go to his head. That wouldn’t be so bad, if he actually did something useful with his power, but as it is he is largely a speed-bump, earning himself the opprobrium of progressives (and, believe it or not, there are some of those in WV, too) and even some moderates in his own party. Far from a leader, he’s become yet another example of Washington egotism run amuck.

I earnestly hope that someday, in the future, Joe Manchin realizes that he actually owes something to the people who have continued to put their faith to him. It might also occur to him that he can both satisfy their desire that he be the sort of maverick politician that he aspires to be and vote for the sorts of legislation that will do the most good for those who live there. Unfortunately, if past is prologue, I have to say that I don’t have a lot of confidence in this ever happening. If Manchin refuses to change how he does business in Washington, I fear there’s a very real chance that Biden’s domestic agenda could founder on the rocks of his own party. If that is the case, then Manchin might also have the dubious distinction of being the man who tanked his party’s chances of maintaining their hold on power in the mid-terms. Let’s just hope he doesn’t go down this route.


Manchin is demanding progressive lawmakers give in.

Virtually everything that the left has predicted would happen to the reconciliation bill has happened or is in the process of unfolding. No matter how much of it we might have seen coming, that hasn’t made watching it occur in real time any less infuriating or, frankly, painful. Among those who has earned the left’s ire is none other than West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, who has happily served as an active barrier to virtually any progress the left might like to see under the Biden administration.

Of course, he never ceases to kick it up a notch.

From the moment the bipartisan infrastructure bill and reconciliation bill route were decided upon, it was obvious to anyone who follows politics that lawmakers like Manchin were going to do everything they could to torpedo the reconciliation bill if they were able to. One of the key pieces of leverage that the left has in the slim majority in congress was securing the agreement that the reconciliation bill would be voted upon first or at the same time as the bipartisan infrastructure bill to ensure that didn’t happen.

Originally, the bill was supposed to be $6 trillion, then was whittled down to $3.5 as the compromise that was originally agreed upon, and now, thanks largely to Joe Biden’s weakness and unwillingness to fight, stands at Joe Manchin’s preferred figure of around $1.75. Not only that, but Manchin and Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema have succeeded in gutting the bill of paid family leave, negotiations for drug prices, key climate provisions, and tuition free community college. Virtually all that is left is universal pre-k for the simple reason that the donor class wants parents back to work, some scaled back climate policies, and a means tested daycare program.

Still, even with all the concessions, lawmakers like Manchin and Sinema have not committed to voting for the reconciliation bill.

Last week, Nancy Pelosi met with the progressive caucus to urge them to, as predicted, vote for the bipartisan bill so that it could pass before the President went overseas. Of course, that meant that it would be before the reconciliation bill was voted upon, and she was quite literally kicked out of the meeting in response.

Of course, the only guarantee they had was Biden’s confidence that Manchin and Sinema would back the bill. After everything that has occurred, they’re simply expected to take his word for it. Well, as expected, Manchin himself decided to come out and publicly refuse to commit.

Not only that, he decided to take to the press to demand progressives give in.

At the press conference, Manchin said:

“I’ve worked in good faith for months with all of my colleagues to find a middle ground on a fiscally responsible piece of legislation that fixes the flaws of the 2017 Trump tax bill that I thought was weighted far, far to the high end earners, and the needs of the American families and children. However, as more of the real details outlined in the basic framework are released, what I see are shell games. Budget gimmicks that makes the real cost of the so called $1.75 trillion bill estimated to be almost twice that amount if the full time is run out. If you extended it permanently, and that we haven’t spoken about. This is a recipe for economic crisis…well I’ve worked hard to find a path to compromise but it’s obvious, compromise is not good enough for a lot of my colleagues in congress. It’s all or nothing, and their position doesn’t seem to change unless we agree to everything. Enough is enough.”

Sen. Joseph Manchin– W. Virginia

The sheer gaslighting. The unmitigated gall. The nerve of this multi-millionaire to get up in front of the cameras and outright lie to the American people the way he did is enough to make you sick. This bill is a shell of what it once was. A shell. And yet he pretends as though it is the progressives who aren’t compromising, who are saying ‘all or nothing’? We are in this position because in spite of the concessions that have been made to him, he is still unwilling to commit to voting for this bill. He succeeded in getting the bill so scaled back it has reached the point where many of us on the left are urging the progressive lawmakers to abandon it altogether, and Manchin has the audacity to go on camera, finger wag, and say “enough is enough”.

As I have said now countless times before, if Manchin succeeds with this behavior then democrats absolutely deserve the political bloodbath they have coming to them in upcoming elections. If this is the man that democrats have decided will act as the de facto president, then I want no part of it. Manchin’s right, I suppose. Enough really is enough. These are not minor disagreements over a spending bill. This is open political warfare over the future of the democratic party, and Manchin is working as hard as he can to alienate the left as much as humanly possible.

Is this what people voted for in 2020? Is this the type of leadership that organizers moved mountains for? Is this what Arizona and Georgia flipped blue for? I’m not sure what else there is to say about Manchin that hasn’t already said, but we should be thoroughly embarrassed by the fact that this was the path chosen by a democratic party that was handed the house, the senate, and the white house.

They’re really going to demand we move mountains again, aren’t they?

I don’t have the time or the energy to dwell on the anger. At this point if he succeeds, then good luck in 2022. The American people certainly don’t deserve what’s coming, but nothing would give me more pleasure than to see a party as weak, feckless, and corrupt as the democratic party get what it deserves.