What terrible thing had Manchin done to deserve such howls of betrayal from the Republicans? Well, it looks like Manchin, the Republicans’ favorite former Democrat, dared to act like a Democrat.
Manchin agreed with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) on legislation lowering prescription drug prices and providing incentives for renewable energy, funded by a crackdown on big business dodging tax. After two years of Manchin resisting such a deal, Republicans had come to believe that he would never agree (although he never said as much). So when he did, they went wild with self-destructive rage.
Forty-one Republicans in the Senate blocked a bill that would help veterans who had been exposed to toxic burning stoves – even though 25 out of 41 previously backed an almost identical bill. In the House, GOP leaders battled to scupper a bipartisan deal helping U.S. semiconductor chipmakers compete with China, forcing all but 24 House Republicans to vote against the bill. Now, Senate Republicans say that due to anger over Manchin’s actions, a bipartisan effort to codify marriage equality could be doomed.
Democrats, on the other hand, showed a rare unity, with the woke wing of the party praising the Manchin-brokered energy and prescription drug bill. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), leader of the Progressive Caucus, called it a “very, very big step forward.”
The episode is a key reminder that the supposed “polarization” of American politics is not symmetrical. The Democrats, after a long struggle, are finally trying to hold the political center. They reached near-universal agreement on a bill that pays down the debt, makes drugs cheaper, eliminates unfair tax breaks for the biggest corporations and the wealthiest tenth of the 1%, and implements a policy energy package that streamlines drilling permits while accelerating the transition to clean energy. And Republicans responded by voting against veterans and American manufacturing.
Manchin, who is nonpartisan, chastised Republicans for “essentially holding veterans hostage because they’re crazy.” He added: ‘My Republican friends… get carried away with the thought ‘Well we have to be against something because it might make the other side look good. ”
The West Virginia senator has been a huge irritant to his fellow Democrats (he says he was “ostracized” and “victimized”), but he is at heart an old-school populist. Democrats have been tempted to kick him out of the party for his refusal to abolish the filibuster, which has thwarted President Biden’s agenda. But there have been considerable benefits to maintaining a semblance of a large tent.
Manchin backed Democrats’ coronavirus relief bill, was key figure in negotiating bipartisan infrastructure bill, tried (but failed) to gain Republican support for rights package ballot, helped enact bipartisan gun safety legislation and is on the verge of securing bipartisan passage of the Voter Count Act reform to avoid a repeat Jan. 6. And now he’s shocked everyone with his support for clean energy and the prescription drug package.
Selling his deal to his constituents in Trump Country during a Thursday interview with West Virginia’s MetroNews, Manchin struck a populist note worthy of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Manchin called it “ridiculous” to say the bill is a tax hike. “There were very, very large corporations that could basically take advantage of the tax code and pay nothing. I didn’t think it was fair, and I think most Americans don’t think it was fair,” Manchin said. “They are paying for the ability to be in this country, with the defense we have, the protections we have and the opportunities. And they don’t want to participate? I want them to show up. Tell me who you are.”
Asked to answer a question from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell claim that the Manchin bill amounts to “giant tax increases” that “will kill many thousands of American jobs”, Manchin replied, “It’s just too bad”. Manchin said he’s worked with Republicans in the past on similar energy bills, “and now you have a chance to get it and you go boo-hoo?” The longtime broker of bipartisan agreements said of Republicans: “This is a bill we would have worked on in a bipartisan effort if we could, but they can’t.”
Or, more accurately, they won’t.
Manchin, no doubt, gave his fellow Democrats tantrums for two years. But in a way, he really is one of them: he always wants to get things done. In the current American political system, only one side even tries.