Reviews | The Absurdities Behind Joe Manchin’s Ugly New Reversal

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It will only surprise people who haven’t paid even cursory attention to the past year of Democratic politics, but Senator Joe Manchin III may have just killed all hope for a resurrected version of the Democratic agenda.

The West Virginia Democrat reportedly told party leaders Thursday night that he would not support any new incentives to fight climate change or any new tax hikes on corporations or the wealthy. The Post reports that in private talks, Manchin appeared close to a deal, only to return at the last minute.

Yet, as ridiculous as this turnaround is on the face of it, there are even more hidden absurdities behind the situation that show how farcical it really has become. They turn to the details of what Manchin seemed to dismiss, and his inflation-related excuse for doing so, which amounts to a towering display of bad faith.

First, a caveat: After these stories broke, Manchin claimed friday that he is still open to a deal and wants to see July inflation figures before deciding. So maybe he just doesn’t want to act yet. But given everything we’ve seen, let’s usher in the Manchin Rule: Until the senator shows he’s acting in good faith, we’ll presume otherwise.

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The agreement would have lifted about $1 trillion in revenue from cutting some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts. Half of that revenue would have gone to deficit reduction, and the other half would have gone mostly to funding the transition to green energy.

Also in the mix were provisions empowering Medicare to negotiate down the prices of prescription drugs, which would yield substantial savings. These could be used to continue funding the Affordable Care Act’s expanded grants, which are due to expire after they were originally passed in last year’s covid-19 bailout.

But Manchin rejected tax hikes and climate provisions. For now, he’s only open to some sort of deal in which savings from prescription drug provisions fund the expansion of ACA subsidies.

Incidentally, the grants highlight another problem with Manchin’s position. Even if he just wants to delay another month, extending the subsidies this month is essential because states will soon have to assume they will expire and send notices of premium increases.

Either way, it’s hard to discern how Manchin got there. As The Post reports, he has long supported tax reforms such as the ones currently being debated, but appears to have walked away from them, including a measure to close a loophole enjoyed by the very wealthy to prop up Medicare.

Additionally, Manchin is still told people he wanted a few hundred billion dollars in deficit reduction. How he would do this without raising high taxes is unclear.

It’s getting worse. A Democrat briefed on the conversations said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) sought to address Manchin’s concerns about the climate provisions head-on.

That included cutting spending on green energy tax incentives to $375 billion, the Democrat said. It also included negative incentives for electric vehicles, which Manchin had also oppose.

And a Democratic aide told me that much of the green tax incentive legislation has been redacted and the haggling comes down to minor points. Manchin’s reversal floored those working on this text, given what had happened just hours earlier.

A nice read of Manchin’s motives goes like this. As someone who represents a state that is both dark red and dependent on fossil fuels, he naturally sought a balance. He is open to the government facilitating innovation that facilitates the transition to green energy, but only if it does not damage the traditional energy sector or the people who depend on it too quickly.

But even so, removing incentives for electric vehicles represents a big concession to its values. After all, a transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles is an essential element to reduce emissions at the necessary rate to minimize long-term risks.

Indeed, the remaining package of climate incentives falls squarely within the parameters of the balanced approach it desires. That is, if Manchin – who has personally become wealthy out of the coal industry – means what it says.

Manchin’s own explanation doesn’t make much sense either. His spokesperson insists that we must “adapt to the economic realities facing the country” and avoid “measures that fuel the fire of inflation”.

But climate change is too a reality, and without something like this agenda, it may be impossible to come close to the climate goals that scientists believe are necessary to avert catastrophe.

And how much would the package offered to Manchin actually increase inflation? Economist Dean Baker notes that half would go to deficit reduction, what does manchin wantand removing incentives for electric vehicles removes another one piece of expense.

In addition, says Baker, spending on ACA grants would be offset by decreased spending on prescription drugs. “It’s basically impossible to see how that would be inflationary,” Baker tells me.

Manchin is free to disagree with this, but he did not present a serious case that something like this package would disastrously fuel inflation. Nor has he meaningfully explained why whatever inflation it produces is worse for the country than the climate future he entrusts us with.

Instead, he bets that the word “inflation” will simply disable our critical faculties. We shouldn’t let that happen. The absurdities behind his position should be exposed without mercy.

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