Manchin’s Tin Ear
Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 1, 2021
For good and bad, we now know what Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WA, wants.
His alternative to Joe Biden’s big proposals for a Great New Deal approach to expanded social services, is a revisit of what he sees as unfair taxes voted by the then-Republican majority 2017 Congress. Then, maybe months from now, an extension of child-care or other specific social services aid. That’s it.
Yesterday, there were source reports offered by MSNBC that Manchin might be willing to talk about a social service package worth $2 trillion, up from $1.5 trillion, rather than the $3.5 trillion that the White House and 96% of Congressional Democrats support.
In practical terms, Manchin’s position is a nonstarter for finding any agreement.
Worse, it shows that one or two key players can hold up an entire expansive set of programs, and just what a tin ear that one player has for what ails the country.
Manchin was busy talking about “fiscal insanity” of big spending, and the need to avoid committing the country towards more reliance on government-sponsored aid. “I just don’t want our society to move to an entitlement society,” Manchin said in a formal statement.
Whatever frenzied negotiations there are among progressive Democrats, centrists like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who never says what she wants, and Biden will continue with all of us standing on the sidelines, frustrated that the wheels of what passes for government are totally clogged among Democrats alone. But as for setting a direction for the country, or seeing a government hold anything resembling intelligent policy discussion, we could well be left holding an almost empty bag on the expansive programs for infrastructure, services towards a more equitable lives, social services for those squeezed in the middle and worker classes that were supposed to mark the Biden presidency.
The one sign of sanity was a bipartisan agreement basically to cover current spending through December and avoid a government shutdown, essentially kicking one of the multiple simultaneous financial policy cans down the street for less-frenzied resolution.
Predictions of Doom Everywhere
Pundits are building on Manchin’s positions to predict dour outcomes for the two big spending bills — and indeed for Democratic fortunes in next years mid-year elections. For myself, I worry more about what the costs are for not passing such spending bills both for individual households and for the country itself.
Not spending on climate ensures that we will pay massive amounts yearly in natural disaster aid for increasingly severe storms, fires, and drought. Not spending on social services will have a compounding effect on inequality, education, and labor.
For sure, Manchin has “all of Washington hanging on his every word,” as Politico noted, with progressives in fear that Manchin is out to kill a bill that seeks improvements in Medicare and Medicaid, pre-k education, community college support, prescription drug price cuts, child-care tax credits, new taxes on the wealthy and investments in resisting the effects of climate change.
It’s all been creamed into one giant “budget reconciliation” bill because the Senate rules force a limited number of such attempts to avoid the 60-vote approval guideline. That super-filled bill alone unnerves Manchin, he says. Instead, he said, “I want to do a tax overhaul. One thing you understand that all Democrats agreed on, there’s not a lot of things we all agree on, is that the 2017 tax cuts are unfair and weighted toward the high end. Let’s fix that. That’s the reconciliation,” Manchin said. “I think we can get a good bill done. I really do if we work in good faith.”
By doing so, and not engaging in negotiations on the bills taking front-row attention, Manchin may also be killing chances for a bipartisan infrastructure companion bill addressing road, bridge, airport, and wireless service issues. Progressive Democrats promise to oppose that physical infrastructure bill if Manchin does not even negotiate about the bigger social services bill.
For his part, Biden has not welcomed questions about the top-line total number for the bill. In continuing meetings with Manchin, Sinema and others in the House and Senate, Biden instead has told reporters that he was trying to coax members of his party toward a compromise by asking what their priorities are and adding up the costs, rather than starting by haggling over the final price tag. Biden said. “Several of them, when they go through their priorities, it adds up to a number higher than they said they were for.”
Manchin’s Tin Ear
Enter the Manchin tin ear on this issue and others, including voting rights. Manchin’s timetable is months, not days or weeks. He said he would also focus on extending the child tax credit that expires at the end of the year, a signal that Dec. 31 may be his true deadline for passage of a reconciliation package even as congressional leaders desperately try to force action this fall.
“Do you know how convoluted the tax system is? Do you really understand? We don’t have a one-week, two-week deadline, I don’t believe, on this. Because everything’s covered,” Manchin said. “There’s nobody going to go without. The child tax credit ends at the end of the year and everything else goes to 2023. That’s why I said, ‘let’s do a pause,’ and really take time to work with it.”
Democrats need Manchin’s vote — and Sinema’s to succeed. They cannot ignore his concerns to be successful at passing even something smaller than the total package as proposed.
Within that statement, however, progressives and lots of others, dispute various parts of Manchin’s logic. Manchin argues that we don’t need spending in a “hot” economy, but recent economic reports suggests that the economy is cooling again quickly as covid ensures continuing uncertainty. Manchin thinks that “entitlement” programs are resisted even in his home state, but West Virginia polling shows the same popular support for prescription drug price cuts and child-care services as in the rest of the country. And Manchin seems to pooh-pooh the idea that the number is big because it is describing costs over 10 years.
West Virginia would benefit directly from some of the climate investments proposed for off-setting moves away from coal and natural gas feeds to power plants, though Manchin himself invests and is disproportionately supported by fossil fuel interests.
The plan calls for more tax on billionaires and corporations to pay for much of the investment, but Manchin only sees that passage will presage a permanent expansion of government support.
Negotiations aside, it does make you wonder what information Manchin filters to understand current needs.