In defense of Joe Manchin
As someone new to politics, it is strange for me to see all of the mainstream Democratic Party frustration being directed towards West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. From the White House, to the Capital building, everyone is laying the blame for big policy failures squarely on his shoulders. Manchin has voted with Biden’s position 97% of the time in every piece of legislation that has been brought to a vote in the Senate. The bigger issue appears to be his opposition to many provisions in legislation that has not yet received a vote.
The Build Back Better Act that is waiting on a vote in the Senate is a massive $1.75 trillion bill that would reduce taxes on small business, provide universal preschool, stabilize rising prescription drug prices, provide paid family leave, provide low income housing, expand elderly and disabled care, expand apprenticeships across the country, and give tax credits for green energy purchase. Congratulations if you made it to the end of that list, because that isn’t all, but I just couldn’t write anymore. All of the spending will be offset by increased enforcement existing tax laws, a 15% tax on corporate foreign profits, closing loopholes on wealthy tax brackets, reforming prescription drug rules, 1% tax on corporate stock buybacks, and targeted tax on corporations making more than $1 billion for 3 consecutive years.
As you can see, a single paragraph containing the basic overall structure of the bill is almost unreadable. I have no issue with Manchin taking a step back from the transformative legislation and making sure everything is in order. Several Republicans have expressed support for parts of this bill, but as it is now, none of them support the entirety of the act.
Joe Biden was elected on a promise of bipartisanship, and we have seen glimpses of that. I would encourage him, Manchin, and the rest of the Democrats in office to reconsider this process. Break the bill into more palatable pieces, ensure that the spending in each part does not add to the ridiculous deficit, and bring those bills to a vote. For example, the universal preschool program, coupled with the IRS crackdown on tax avoidance, would be a standalone bill that would have bipartisan support in both houses.
The most expensive and controversial component of the current bill is the clean energy component. While critics will cry about the “Green New Deal,” the component is not that. It does fund modernized rail service, public transport, power grid infrastructure, electric car charging stations, new carbon capture technology, and renewable energy generation. Most of the spending is targeted to keep us slightly ahead of China and ensure that our infrastructure is able to support an increasingly technology driven future. This spending would provide support to everyday Americans and practically every business in the country. That would still be a tough sell to the skeptical conservatives in the Senate, a bill that specifically spelled out the benefits, and it was spending neutral, it would have the potential of being a home run for the government.
As a fiscally conservative person, it gave me hope to see a large bill like the Build Back Better Act projected to be spending neutral. I am sure that Joe Manchin felt the same way. The large bill and complicated cost analysis gave him concern about whether or not the bill was actually spending neutral. This is the mistake that Democrats made with the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Passing a large bill with many positive aspects, but somewhat obscured by future unknowns, left voters feeling betrayed. A significant portion of the current government disfunction can be directly traced to Republican response to that bill. If anything, Democrats should thank Joe Manchin for taking a closer look at the Build Back Better Act.
My message to Democrats in Congress is to use this time to clean up the message, especially to voters. Conservatives in West Virginia and across the country are not inspired by a party attacking their own members for being cautious about transformative legislation. If Joe Biden has any intention of keeping a majority in either house of Congress, he must put in the work with conservatives. This is his signature legislation, and is why so many Republicans flipped in the 2020 election to vote for him. Build Back Better doesn’t have to be a single bill. But if it is, people like Joe Manchin will have to be swayed by the positives. While they are in the bill, a lot of unknowns exist.
This government owes the people that elected them to positions of power, to wield it appropriately. While Build Back Better does do some great things, it could be better. That is what Democrats should focus on, not attacking Manchin.