Oh Good, Now We Know What Joe Manchin Wants, Maybe. And It's AWFUL.
One of the recurring mysteries getting in the way of progress on the Build Back Better reconciliation bill is that nobody really knows what exactly the the two Democratic holdouts, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are holding out for. They've both been extremely coy about not saying in public what top-line amount of spending they could vote for, other than "Not $3.5 trillion over 10 years."
Now, last night, Manchin did release that screed about the "fiscal insanity" of spending lots of money on social programs while raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for it, but even that wasn't terribly specific about changes he might want to make to the reconciliation package beyond insisting Congress should wait and see whether poor people stop being poor, and also we should means-test any new benefits to make sure the middle class won't support the bill since it's frozen out of getting any help.
As for Sinema, she's been even less clear. Asked whether the rest of the Democratic caucus knows where she is, she hilariously said "I'm clearly right in front of the elevator" because she's the second coming of goddamn John "turn left at Greenland" Lennon.
Today, however, Politico reports it has dredged up a copy of a July 28 document that it says Manchin has been handing to Senate colleagues who want to know what his own position on reconciliation might be, if he'd be so kind. It's a brief outline of some fairly radical changes he'd like to make to Biden's first-term agenda, like slashing most of it. Look at this shit, would you just LOOK AT IT:
We'll bullet point for you if you can't read that mess above:
Families and health
- Needs based with means testing guardrails/formulas on new spending
- Targeted spending caps on existing programs
- No additional handouts outs or transfer payments
- Inclusion of S. 1783 Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act (LifeBOAT Act)
- Sole ENR jurisdiction on any clean energy standard
- Spending on innovation, not elimination. Fuel neutral
Energy and Vehicle Tax policies:
- That CCUS be included and ensure that CCUS on coal and natural gas can feasibly qualify
- If tax credits for solar and wind are included and extended, then fossil tax credits are not repealed (eg. intangible drilling costs and credits for enhanced oil recovery)
- Vehicle and fuel tax credits shall not be limited to electric vehicles — they must include hydrogen.
- Any revenue exceeding $1.5 T shall be used for deficit reduction
- Corporate tax rate: 25%
- Corporate domestic minimum tax: 15%
- Raise the top rate on ordinary income: 39.6%
- Raise cap gains rate: 28% All in
- End carried interest
- Tax Gap, Rebate Rule, Dynamic Growth
Manchin — in late July at least — wanted the bill to be no larger than $1.5 trillion, just hacking out well over half of what the proposal called for after it had already been hacked down to Biden's agenda essentials. Worse, it appears to share the same complete misunderstanding of the Build Back Better agenda that we saw in his September Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which he called for a "pause" on the reconciliation bill until the economic effects of the American Rescue Plan became clear. Manchin really seems to think Build Back Better is another emergency stimulus package, not the thorough revamping of the social safety net and climate agenda that its proponents — including the president — see it as.
For instance, he called for debate on the package to not even start until October 1 (oh look, here we are), and insisted that none of the new spending for Build Back Better be disbursed "until all funding from COV1D legislation and [the American Rescue Plan] has been spent" and until the Federal Reserve has ended "quantitative easing" — another emergency measure to prop up the economy.
We sure hope someone has at least clarified to Manchin that this is Biden's legislative agenda for his first term, not a short-term plan to boost the economy. Has anyone told him? Senator? Have you heard?
Politico notes that the document's date, July 28, was "right before the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin helped write," and the Senate's passage of a basic framework for the reconciliation plan.
Among other demands, Manchin insisted on a top corporate tax rate of 25 percent (Build Back Better sets it at 26.6), a top capital gains tax rate of 28 percent (higher than BBB's 25 percent), and a top marginal income tax rate of 39.6 percent, which at last everyone agreed on. He also wanted any new revenue over $1.5 trillion to go to paying down the deficit, because OMG deficit.
Manchin's beloved means tests were in there, too, insisting that all benefits be "needs based," which would turn Biden's vision of educational and family benefits for working class Americans, a means of building the economy from the middle out and from the bottom up, into a set of safety-net benefits that the middle class would resent, because why are those people getting help and I'm not? Say goodbye to broad-based family and medical leave, free community college, universal pre-K, help for caregivers for the elderly, and childcare.
And on another key part of Build Back Better, Manchin appeared to completely reject the idea that the federal government should be working to transition the US to clean energy. Instead, he insisted that coal and natural gas qualify for government assistance if they adopt carbon capture technology (those CCUS's in his memo above are for "carbon capture, utilization, and storage"), and that if the government subsidizes clean energy, it may not cut any subsidies to fossil fuels. And while he was open to tax credits for electric vehicles, he insisted that similar credits be extended to hydrogen-powered vehicles, which is a problem since, as the New York Times reports, current technology for producing hydrogen is so energy intensive that it's really a misnomer to call hydrogen a "zero emissions" fuel.
The hostage note closes with the line "Senator Manchin does not guarantee that he will vote for the final reconciliation legislation if it exceeds the conditions outlined in this agreement." Politico notes that while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signed the document and hand-wrote "will try to dissuade Joe on some of these," a spokesman for Schumer said today that Schumer
never agreed to any of the conditions Sen. Manchin laid out; he merely acknowledged where Sen. Manchin was on the subject at the time. [...] Sen. Manchin did not rule out voting for a reconciliation bill that exceeded the ideas he outlined, and Leader Schumer made clear that he would work to convince Sen. Manchin to support a final reconciliation bill — as he has doing been for weeks.
Again, that was where Manchin was in July, and Joe Manchin can be notoriously difficult to pin down. It's not terribly encouraging that Politico reports Manchin is still handing out copies of his list to colleagues, though, and it's difficult to imagine Democrats caving to all his demands from July, particularly the remaking of much of Build Back Better into means-tested programs that wouldn't help the middle class, or the insistence on propping up fossil fuels in the face of the climate crisis.
Since the document was published this morning, Manchin has very helpfully clarified to reporters that he is not now nor has he ever been a liberal, that he believes "in my heart" that the US can't possibly afford to spend more than $1.5 trillion (despite all of it being paid for), and that America shouldn't become "an entitlement-based society." Guess we shouldn't be too surprised: Since the 1980s, the very wealthy and huge corporations have been entitled to everything they ask for, so if progressives want to change that, he explained, they should "elect more liberals."
From your lips to the Cosmic Whatever's ear, Mr. Senator. We need to expand the Democratic majority in the midterms, that's for damn sure.
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