I usually get one or two calls a week from national reporters who are doing stories about Joe Manchin. Typically, this question comes up concerning the ongoing budget negotiations: “So, what does Manchin want?”
I have gotten in the habit of answering that Manchin wants “a deal.” He is true to his often-stated position of wanting to bring differing parties together and using the considerable powers of his personality to reach an agreement.
Given the enormously high stakes of these discussions, and the desperation of President Biden and the Democrats to pass the Build Back Better legislation, if Manchin “wanted something,” he could probably name his price.
Gold leaf on the domes of every county courthouse in West Virginia? Done. More industrial parks, highways and buildings named for him than Robert C. Byrd? Check. A special dock for his houseboat in the Capitol Reflecting Pool? Difficult, but doable.
The way Washington works, if this were just about stuff Manchin wanted, he would have been on board a long time ago. No, this is more about what Manchin does not want.
Manchin does not want to be pegged as a liberal by going all in on the reconciliation. “I’ve never been a liberal in any shape or form,” he said earlier this month. “For them to get theirs, I guess elect more liberals.”
Manchin does not want to add to the annual deficit or debt. He insists any new spending include funding. He has said previously he would agree to increases in corporate and capital gains taxes, and possibly even a wealth tax to cover the additional spending.
Manchin is not for just “sending out checks,” as he says. The Senator has indicated he wants to lower the threshold for child tax credits and means-test any new or expanded social programs, such as childcare. “Any expansion of social programs must be targeted to those in need,” Manchin has said.
Manchin does not want to sign on to climate legislation that would put the coal industry out of business. He is adamantly opposed to $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program that would force power companies to produce four percent more clean energy annually or pay a penalty.
Manchin does not want to leave the nation’s energy policy to the liberal wing of the Senate. As Politico reported, “As chair of the Senate Energy Committee, the coal state Democrat asks that his panel have sole jurisdiction over any clean energy standard.”
Manchin’s critics on the left accuse him of being out of step with the Democratic Party and an obstructionist. Notably, Manchin is the same person he has always been—a moderate, pro-business Democrat.
Why, at this stage in his life and political career, would Manchin swing to the left? The issue here is less about Manchin and more about the wildly expensive dramatic expansion of government for which there is no mandate.
President Biden and the Democrats insist failure on the Build Back Better plan is not an option. If that is off the table, then the primary consideration, given his position, is what Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia does not want.