Decoding Joe Manchin

Until recently, Joe Manchin tended to agree with his party’s economic policy positions.

Manchin voted against Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare and a tax reduction that benefited the wealthy only. He insisted on revisions to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus rescue measure earlier this year, but he nevertheless provided the final vote.

Aside from economic legislation, Manchin has gotten into disagreements with his party over such diverse topics as abortion, voting rights, and Supreme Court nominations. As most Americans, West Virginians mostly agree with the Democratic Party on economic policies while being more conservative on many social matters. This pattern makes sense.

Manchin appeared to embrace Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative. Polls suggest that its contents are widely supported, and Manchin has stated that he hopes that Biden is a successful president in the future. By seeking a few high-profile adjustments to the measure and then voting for it, Manchin might have solidified his reputation as a moderate in the Senate.

As a result, he appeared on Fox News this weekend and stated his opposition to the bill. A public battle broke out between Manchin and the White House as a result of the revelation, and many Democrats are now doubting Biden’s plans.

What just transpired? I’ll go over five of the most common options in today’s newsletter. More than one explanation is likely to be required to provide a comprehensive response, as is typically the case.

Taken at face value

There is no such thing as total agreement with other Democrats on economic policy, even if you agree with them most of the time. As for Build Back Better, Manchin raised a number of particular concerns, including the likelihood of higher inflation, the inclusion of short-term programmes meant to obscure the bill’s true impact on the deficit, and overly generous benefits (such as the child tax credit).

The “entitlement attitude” of our economy and society is “not acceptable to me,” he stated in September.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board criticised Democrats last week, just before Manchin declared his opposition to the measure, for ignoring his concerns rather than addressing them: “His colleagues’ answer has been to plough forward as if Mr. Manchin doesn’t mean it.” He did, as it appears.

The following are reasons why this explanation may not be accurate: By cutting prescription prices, providing more housing units, and encouraging people to return to the workforce—the bill may have lowered inflation. Two, some Democratic members of Congress question Manchin’s sincerity in trying to reach an agreement, claiming that he never made a firm offer.

A sense of class identity

A wealthy man like Manchin spends a great deal of time with other wealthy individuals. His son worked in the energy industry, while his daughter was the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. During the 1990s, Manchin was even on the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a pro-business, anti-regulation lobbying group.

That Manchin obstructed a bill to raise taxes on the rich in order to pay for new social programmes is perhaps not surprising, given this history. “Super-Rich Americans Feel Relief as Tax Hikes Are Canceled for Now” was the headline of a Bloomberg item after he stated his opposition.

One reason to be sceptical: Manchin has shown a willingness to go against the wishes of the wealthy in the past by voting against Trump’s tax cuts. Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona vetoed his proposed increase in the business tax during the Build Back Better negotiations.

Coal and the environment

West Virginia coal is a major source of wealth for Manchin and his family, and he has been an outspoken advocate for the industry. Clean energy subsidies in an effort to make it more competitive with fossil fuels were opposed by the group.

Manchin cited the bill’s threat to the coal sector in expressing his opposition to it this week, and he defined the bill’s purpose as “revamping the entire energy policies for our country.” (Manchin’s fossil fuel ties have been extensively documented by my colleagues Jonathan Weisman and Lisa Friedman.)

In a recent counteroffer to the White House, Manchin made it clear that he was fine with some climate elements. Rather than opposing multiple climate programmes as he had in the past, his opposition to Vice President Biden’s newly large child tax credit stood out.

a shambles on Capitol Hill

The Democratic Party stayed remarkably consistent on a wide range of issues under both the Obama and Trump administrations. However, the Democratic Party’s unity has deteriorated.

Progressives, according to moderates, are deluded about public opinion in the United States on a wide range of issues, including abortion, guns, immigration, racism, religion, and socialism. Progressives believe that moderates are deceiving themselves about the danger posed by the Republican Party to democracy. In this debate, all sides have a valid point to make.

Progressive activists tried to make life difficult for moderate legislators, such as Manchin, during the Build Back Better debate by holding protests outside their homes or harassing them out in public. You can see why Manchin isn’t so enamoured with the Democratic Party in light of this backdrop and Biden’s 44 percent approval rating.

Manchin is aware that his left-wing critics in West Virginia help to bolster his moderate image, so there’s reason to be sceptical.

Politics as a stage show

You might want to think about what Manchin’s supporters have been hearing this week. They brought down a Democratic president thanks to their senior senator. That’s good public relations for a man who represents a state where Trump got 69% of the vote and who, according to my colleague Carl Hulse, is increasingly expected to run for re-election in 2024.

Last but not least, it is possible that Manchin’s words were a combination of performance and negotiating. With a less generous child tax credit, Manchin and Democrats may still approve a scaled-back plan next month, without the expiring programmes that Manchin deems to be fiscal gimmicks. In this way, the credit for the more moderate stance will be his to claim. “Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done,” Biden declared yesterday at the White House, a smile spreading across his face.

Manchin’s record on economic policy would support this conclusion.

Reasons for scepticism: the first four points made in the newsletter.


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