Hey Look! Joe Manchin's Holding A Football!
When Sen. Joe Manchin says “Here’s the thing. I’ve always been open to talking to people okay? But they just don’t want to hear,” you may want to just run away screaming instead of reading the rest of the Politico article in which the gentleman from West Virginia outlines his ideas for an alternative to Build Back Better that he'd be willing to help pass. Or at least have your running shoes already on and snugly tied while you listen.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Joe Biden called for passage of at least some of the planks in Build Back Better, the sweeping package of climate and social spending programs that Manchin single-handedly killed off last fall, after nearly a year of forcing the ambitious plan to be whittled down from $3.5 trillion over 10 years to $1.7 trillion, to meet various demands from Manchin and from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). Shaping legislation to please Joe Manchin didn't work out so great last year, but Manchin insisted that was because the narrowed bill wasn't actually what he'd made clear he wanted anyway.
But with midterms coming, Democrats really are looking for additional legislative wins to run on. That's in addition to last year's big American Rescue Plan that revitalized the pandemic economy and kept millions of Americans whole, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is building bridges and highways and, yes, creating jobs. So, as Politico points out, Democrats are listening, cautiously, to what Manchin says he would definitely support in a reconciliation package that could be passed by Democrats alone in the Senate, since some guy insists the filibuster must absolutely be preserved.
So what does Manchin say he wants?
As he laid out in his interview with Politico, it's more of an outline than a full package. One minimum requirement for him is that any package of tax increases and spending would have to be "permanently funded." That was the sticking point Manchin suddenly discovered last year to sink Build Back Better: To fit the budget totals Manchin demanded, the bill was rewritten to only fund some programs for a few years, instead of the full 10 that Manchin decided was the eternal touchstone of good government.
So to fund whatever goes into the Manchin package, the plan would
need to start with prescription drug savings and tax reform. He envisions whatever revenue they can wring out of that as split evenly between reducing the federal deficit and inflation, on the one hand, and enacting new climate and social programs, on the other — “to the point where it’s sustainable.”
“If you do that, the revenue producing [measures] would be taxes and drugs. The spending is going to be climate,” Manchin said.
“And the social issues, we basically have to deal with those” with any money that’s left, he added.
And if you're wondering exactly where the details are, there aren't any. That's the outline of what Manchin says he can live with. He insists that that's always where he's been, and that the rest of the party knows it, but "They just basically think that I’m going to change."
Still, it would be something, and hooray for Manchin saying he wants to invest in climate, and ... um.
Oh yeah, there actually is one more thing, it turns out. About those measures to help the climate? Manchin, who we will remind you owns a coal company, wants to be sure they don't help the climate too much:
Manchin, who also chairs the Senate Energy Committee, said that the climate portion of any theoretical bill will look different now that Russia is invading Ukraine. He’s calling for the U.S. to ban oil imports from Russia and ramp up domestic energy production, including fossil fuels. He would support big clean energy investments in a potential deal, he said, but wants domestic oil, gas and coal production to still be a big part of the mix.
So sure, let's invest in clean energy, but to get that, we absolutely have to negate any progress on climate by also investing in the fossil fuels that have caused the climate emergency. (And yes, that's a long-running theme with Manchin, too.)
Manchin says that including both clean and dirty energy in a climate plan is simply an "all of the above" approach to energy. Cool! Perhaps we should talk about trying an "all of the above" approach to treating a COVID patient: Give them antiviral pills, infusions of the one remaining monoclonal antibody treatment that works on Omicron, and regular injections of brand new coronavirus variants.
Manchin dismissed the notion that you can't slow greenhouse emissions through expanded production of fossil fuels, scoffing, “They say ‘Manchin doesn’t care … he’s killing the environment.’ I’m not killing anything.” Look he denies there's anything crazy about his approach, and if you make him mad, he'll wish you into the oilfield.
Beyond that flaming chunk of carbon-spewing illogic, Politico also addresses another potential roadblock to the half-formed package: Manchin's partner in No, Kyrsten Sinema. As you'll recall, she took her own axe to Build Back Better last year, insisting there could be no actual reversals of the 2017 Trump tax cuts, which forced the downsized Build Back Better bill to rely for funding instead on surtaxes and a new corporate minimum tax. Asked about Manchin's new idea, Sinema's office said that to pay for what Manchin wants, all that's needed is the revenue mechanism already in the truncated version of Build Back Better.
“Any new, narrow proposal — including deficit reduction — already has enough tax reform options to pay for it. These reforms are supported by the White House, target tax avoidance, and ensure corporations pay taxes, while not increasing costs on small businesses or everyday Americans already hurting from inflation,” said Hannah Hurley, a spokesperson for Sinema.
So that sounds like a "no" on prescription drug price reforms?
Not surprisingly, Manchin's idea didn't win a lot of praise from progressives Politico spoke to. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) said, of the idea that new revenues should go to deficit reduction instead of to social programs, "I don’t care what he wants. We’re talking about what the American people want. He doesn’t like it, he can vote against it, that’s his business." Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) said she hoped Manchin might still come around, despite his insistence that everyone else needs to come around to his way of thinking.
Others said, fine, let's see what we can pass and just bloody pass it:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) put it this way: “There’s so much that we all agree on, that we ought to be able to get a deal.” And Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), the deputy chair of the Progressive Caucus, said she’s “open” to Manchin’s energy proposal provided “it’s paired with a real meaningful commitment, and actual movement.”
Our personal favorite reaction came from moderate Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), who could only come up with
"I was hoping you would were going to, like, ask me to expound about Ukraine.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him. And hope springs eternal,” Warner said.
Manchin wouldn't say directly whether he's discussed his
ransom demands proposals with Biden, but said there's been "informal back-and-forth" and that "Different White House people reach out, and we talk from time to time."
And if this latest idea goes nowhere, Manchin can certainly insist that whatever objections he pulls out of his ass were actually clear to everyone else from the beginning.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.