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Point: Sellout or Statesman? Manchin Charts a Prominent Path

For an alternate viewpoint, see “Counterpoint: Manchin Disappoints With Inflation Reduction Act.”

What more do the Democrats want from Joe Manchin?

The West Virginia senator has voted in favor of President Biden’s policies more than 90 percent of the time. Among 52 key votes that help define a presidency, Manchin cast the decisive vote six times on important issues ranging from protecting voting rights to providing $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 relief. A fiscal conservative, he cast the critical vote to increase the federal debt limit and to approve a $3.5 trillion budget plan.

Just last week, he signed off on expanding subsidies for President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Health Care Act, making a record $370 billion investment in combatting climate change, implementing a minimum 15 percent corporate tax, and allowing Medicare to negotiate less-expensive prescription drug prices for beneficiaries, a move fiercely opposed by Big Pharma.

So crucial was his role that influential news outlets dubbed the package he hammered out with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer “the Manchin deal.”

All this from a senator who represents a poor Appalachian state still dependent on coal mining, one who voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections.

Remarkably, in a sign of the follow-the-leader politics that now dominate both parties, Manchin’s 90.4 percent pro-Biden voting record on major issues places him dead last in presidential loyalty among all 50 Democratic senators.

Despite supporting Biden most of the time, it’s Manchin’s contrary stances that grab headlines and spark anger from more progressive Democratic lawmakers.

Most significantly, Manchin made it clear he would singlehandedly kill the centerpiece of Biden’s legislative agenda, the Build Back Better Act, after the House passed it in November. Manchin said he opposed the package because of its effect on inflation and its overall $2.2 trillion price tag.

So strong was Manchin’s opposition, it led Biden and Schumer to rename the bill, which upon its July 27 Senate introduction was called the Inflation Reduction Act. Most significantly for Manchin, its $443 billion price tag is one-fifth that of the House measure.

Months before the trimmed-back package was released, Manchin faced fury from some progressive lawmakers for blocking Biden’s much bigger BBB plan, as Schumer and other Washington insiders call it. Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat, branded Manchin’s opposition “anti-Black, anti-child, anti-woman and anti-immigrant” because the package included funding for those groups.

During Donald Trump’s four years in office, Manchin voted against Trump’s positions half the time on his most important issues. Here, too, he was dead last among Democratic senators — the lowest percentage of key votes opposing the Republican president.

Some pro-Trump votes were popular bipartisan measures such as pandemic aid, economic stimulus in response to coronavirus shutdowns, and efforts to ease the opioid crisis.

But on other, more controversial issues, Manchin joined Republicans in passing legislation that narrowly overcame Democratic opposition. Reflecting his coal constituency, he helped block tougher restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. He helped defeat an aid bill for migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and helped pass a measure providing $5.7 billion for a border wall. He voted for William Barr and Jeff Sessions to become attorney general. He backed Republicans in a close-but-failed bid to end federal funding of abortions. He cast the only Democratic vote to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

At a different age at a different time, Democratic leaders who parted paths with their party compatriots were hailed as visionaries.

President Lyndon Johnson overcame fierce resistance from fellow Southern Democrats to push through the historic Civil Rights Act in 1964 and, a year later, the landmark Voting Rights Act, making some concessions to gain needed support from a few.

“I am a compromiser and maneuverer,” Johnson said. “I try to get something. That’s the way our system works.”

With his New Democrats movement, President Bill Clinton led his party back to the center while gaining two terms in the White House. Among his more moderate policies, Clinton backed work requirements for welfare recipients, supported a tough anti-crime bill, and pushed for a balanced budget.

“The era of big government is over,” he famously said in 1996, halfway through his tenure.

Thirteen years later, newly elected President Barack Obama resisted many fellow Democrats’ calls for universal health care, opting instead to maintain private insurance. That compromise helps explain why Republicans have failed dozens of times to repeal the law now universally known — and widely heralded — as Obamacare.

So far, Manchin has resisted outreach from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to ditch the Democrats and switch parties, following the path of Democrat-turned-Republican luminaries such as Ronald Reagan, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms.

That prospect would give Republicans control of the Senate and increase Manchin’s clout. So, too, does the fear that a Trump acolyte could defeat him in two years.

In his 2012 race for his first full Senate term, after serving the last two years of Sen. Robert Byrd’s term following Byrd’s death, Manchin defeated his Republican opponent by a 24-point margin. Six years later, with Trump hugely popular in West Virginia, Manchin’s victory margin was sliced to barely 3 points.

Facing re-election in 2024, when Biden is vowing he’ll be back on the ballot and Trump is more than hinting at another run, Manchin will seek a third full Senate term.

Voters will decide then whether the man who was dead last in opposing Trump and dead last in supporting Biden has been a sellout or a statesman.

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Counterpoint: Manchin Disappoints With Inflation Reduction Act

For an alternative viewpoint see “Point: Sellout or Statesman: Manchin Charts a Prominent Path.”

Throughout Joe Biden’s presidency, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has acted as a check on his party’s worst excesses. Manchin has stopped billions, possibly trillions, of unaffordable government spending. He trimmed bills into a reasonable state and was the key voice bringing, for instance, the Biden infrastructure bill from $715 billion down to $550 billion of new spending.

Manchin has generally been a voice of moderation in a party under pressure from its most fervent Big Government voices. As inflation strains household budgets and recession threatens our economy, imagine how much worse off we would be without Manchin.

After all that, he caved. The now infamous deal struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer means the absurdly named “Inflation Reduction Act,” which includes $369 billion worth of climate spending, can go forward in Congress.

There are protectionist tax credits for electric vehicles with bureaucratic hurdles such as “Made in America” provisions, income limitations and maximum vehicle value restrictions. Red tape, not the consumer, is the real winner.

The bill will also make offshore oil drilling more expensive, which can only increase energy prices. The royalty rate to the government for offshore oil will increase by a third. The minimum amount one can bid for an offshore oil lease is going up. So is the annual rental rate for holding such a lease. There will be new fees on methane leakage at oil and gas sites, including transmission and processing facilities, and royalties on flared gas.

And while the bill does include some incentives for opening up new offshore oil leases, those offshore rigs will still face years of slow, inefficient regulatory processes such as environmental impact statements before oil can come out of the ground.

What does it all mean? Your energy bill every month will be higher. You’ll pay more at the pump to fill up your car — even if you own an electric vehicle. Sixty percent of power still comes from fossil fuels, after all, so even Tesla owners will be paying more for using their cars.

Climate bills aim to make fossil fuels more expensive and make renewables seem less expensive by subsidizing them. To that end, the bill includes $60 billion for domestic manufacturing of clean energy, including solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and mining. But those incentives will take time to take effect, and new manufacturers and renewable energy providers in the meantime will have to navigate regulations and red tape at both the state and federal levels.

Meanwhile, the penalties — the disincentives against fossil fuels — have no delay. They go into effect immediately, punishing energy producers with higher taxes, fees and penalties, leading to price hikes. Manchin and the Democrats put the cart before the horse. They’re trying to transition Americans to a renewable energy world that simply doesn’t exist. And in the end, people will suffer as energy costs skyrocket.

That can’t bode well for Democrats come election time, with people upset about higher prices at the pump, the grocery store and their energy bills. Even in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, a potential Republican challenger for his Senate seat is already attacking Manchin’s support of the Inflation Reduction Act for “betraying West Virginia and destroying our economy.”

Manchin made his choice. And in 2024, voters in the Mountain State might feel done with those bad policies.

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Inflation, Recession Can’t Stop Dems Rush to Embrace $1 Trillion in New Spending

Inflation may be high and the U.S. economy may have dipped into recession, but Democrats are still rushing to back major new spending initiatives. And not just Democrats in deep-blue districts. In swing states like New Hampshire, Nevada and Pennsylvania, Democrats are on board with an additional $1 trillion in spending from the Biden administration.

Last week, Congress voted to spend $280 billion to subsidize domestic microchip manufacturing and fund science and tech research. While the House and Senate votes were bipartisan, every Democrat voted yes, while most Republicans voted no. And many of the GOP “yes” votes came from members who are retiring (Adam Kinzinger of Illinois) or are in purple districts Biden carried in 2020 (Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania).

Voting to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars at a time when polls show many voters blame the current inflation crisis on trillions in new federal spending under President Biden might appear politically risky. But Democrats remain undaunted.

“I voted to pass the #CHIPSandScience Act — including my priority to foster innovation in regions like ours!” tweeted Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania, considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress.

“Thrilled to see the CHIPS and Science Act I helped pass head to the president’s desk to become law,” added Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, another endangered Democratic incumbent up for re-election in November.

Now comes news of a deal between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and moderate West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin to spend an additional $739 billion on green energy, healthcare subsidies and — according to Manchin — paying down the national debt. The plan includes $500 billion in new tax revenues, some from a 15 percent minimum corporate tax, and doubling the number of IRS agents to conduct more audits of taxpayers.

Manchin has labeled it the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022,” though the effect of $450 billion in new spending on climate and healthcare on inflation is less than clear. However, advocates for green energy policies say the effect will be significant.

“This is the most significant action on climate and clean energy that we’ve ever taken in this country,” said Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn.

Between the two plans, Biden is proposing $1 trillion in new spending even as inflation hits a 41-year high of 9.1 percent.

New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan, another high-profile target of GOP efforts to take back the Senate, said she was “encouraged by the agreement on the Inflation Reduction Act, which will fight inflation, pay down the deficit, make prescription drugs cheaper and lower energy costs.”

“We have an opportunity to address pressing priorities for Granite Staters and all Americans, and I’ll keep working with my colleagues to finalize a measure that reduces costs and strengthens our economy.”

Rep. Annie Kuster, another New Hampshire Democrat whose race is rated a “toss-up” by Cook Political Report, used her support for the Manchin-Schumer proposal to dodge questions about inflation. Asked by Punchbowl News about the data showing two quarters of declining gross domestic product and what it means, she replied:

“To be honest, I haven’t (looked). I’m more focused on the package that might be passing in the Senate. I’m super excited about the jobs and opportunities that are going to come out of this.”

And Pennsylvania’s Democratic senator, Bob Casey, said via Twitter: “The Inflation Reduction Act will lower everyday costs for families while also reducing the national deficit and putting us on a path to meet our climate commitments. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this done.”

While Democrats may be basking in the glow of an agreement with the recalcitrant Manchin, questions remain about their ability to get the bill passed. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, for example, has expressed reservations in the past about supporting the tax policies it includes.

Meanwhile, Republicans are already using the proposal to label Democrats the party of “tax and spend” economics.

“Now that the data scientists have confirmed that the U.S. is indeed in a recession, clearly fueled by excessive government spending and a strangling of domestic energy, it is even more unconscionable for congressional Democrats to conspire to force yet another tax-and-spend bill on the American people,” said Paul Teller, executive director of Advancing American Freedom, an organization founded by former vice president Mike Pence.

Akash Chougule with Americans for Prosperity called the legislation “a random grab bag of corporate welfare and tax hikes that will do nothing to address inflation — except potentially put us even deeper into recession. For years, members of both parties — including Sen. Manchin — agreed you don’t raise taxes in a recession because it would be devastating to the economy. With a rapidly shrinking economy, inflation at historic highs, and gas prices over $4 a gallon, you’d be hard-pressed to find a worse time for more spending and higher taxes.”

In the past, spending tax dollars offered a bigger political bang for the buck than fiscal restraint. Have the politics of inflation and recession changed the Election Day math? Democrats are about to find out.

PA Sen. Toomey Discusses Bipartisan Gun Control Bill Passed by Senate

Just hours before a historic bipartisan gun control law passed in the U.S. Senate—with the support of 15 Republicans–Sen. Pat Toomey shared his thoughts with reporters in a conference call Thursday.

The bill, crafted quickly by a bipartisan committee of senators in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, is a compromise, said Toomey (R-Pa.).

“For over a decade now, (Sen.) Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and I have been working with Republicans and Democrats to try to find ways to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and dangerously mentally ill people who are not supposed to have them,” Toomey explained. “I think this step that we’re taking this week when we pass this bipartisan Safer Communities Act will take us in a significant step in furthering that goal. It’s not exactly the same thing as Manchin-Toomey, that’s certainly true. But there’s a lot of common sense and there’s a sensible approach.

“First the area I have focused on is background checks and it will strengthen the background check system, especially for young adults,” said Toomey. “It will also provide federal assistance for state crisis intervention programs.

“And that will help to address mental health, drug, veteran’s courts, or extreme risk protection orders,” he said. “There are enhanced penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases and it’ll provide codification of what constitutes sellers of firearms being engaged in the business of selling. And that invokes the obligation to be a federal firearms dealer and requires the seller to conduct background checks.

Toomey added, “I believe it will make our communities somewhat safer. And it will certainly protect the Second Amendment right of law-abiding Americans. It’s always important to me that Second Amendment rights not be infringed.”

“You have to calibrate expectations,” Toomey said. “And strive for what is doable, what can be accomplished. Sen. Manchin and I worked on expanding background checks for a long time.”

While the legislation does not require a background check on all gun sales, it will likely expand them because more gun sellers will be required to register as Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealers.

Also, criminal history and mental health adjudications for juveniles will now be part of background checks for those gun buyers under 21.

The bill cleared the Senate 65-33 and passed the House  234-193 Friday afternoon, with 14 Republicans voting with all Democrats to support it.

House GOP Whip Rep. Steve Scalise worked against the bill’s passage in the House.

Scalise (R-La.) called it “an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights, this legislation takes the wrong approach in attempting to curb violent crimes.” Scalise was a victim of gun violence when a Bernie Sanders supporter began shooting at a congressional Republican baseball practice in June 2017.

Delaware Valley Journal asked Toomey about Scalise’s critique.

“Congressman Scalise and I just disagree on this. I don’t see anything in this legislation that infringes on Second Amendment rights. Just as a background check itself does not infringe on Second Amendment rights. And very conservative, pro-Second Amendment Supreme Court justices have explained why a background check does not infringe on Second Amendment rights. So look, we just disagree. There’s going to be a significant bipartisan vote in favor of this legislation in the Senate and I am confident the House will follow suit,” Toomey said.

Toomey was also asked about opposition from the National Rifle Association.“I don’t know what the NRA is objecting to,” Toomey said. In 1999 the NRA “totally supported expanding background checks, then they decided they were no longer in favor of expanding background checks. I don’t know what their rationale is.”

Also, Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a New York case that gun owners do not have to provide a reason to carry a concealed weapon. Asked about whether that is a good decision, Toomey said he had not read the opinion and could not give a “detailed critique,” but went on to give a full-throated endorsement of the decision.

But “the Second Amendment is very clear. It gives you a constitutional right to bear arms. To bear means to carry. It meant that when it was written. It means that today. And if a state chooses to systematically deny people the right to carry arms, except under extraordinary circumstances, to me that state is clearly infringing,” Toomey said.

“It should not be the case that you have to prove to some bureaucrat that special circumstances require you to be able to exercise your constitutional rights,” he added. “We don’t impose that on other constitutional rights. I don’t have to prove I have a need to practice religion.”

Asked about whether he hopes Pennsylvania would take advantage of grants for “red flag” laws or laws that could allow people to report someone who might be a danger to themselves or others if they have a gun, Toomey said the state legislature should look at “what would benefit Pennsylvania the most.”

The bill includes $750 million for grants which can be used for many purposes such as expanding access to mental health care and addiction care, veterans’ courts.

President Joe Biden has promised to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

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PA Dems Pan Manchin’s Nix of Biden’s Build Back Better Plan

Pennsylvania Democrats reacted swiftly Sunday to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s announcement he won’t be supporting President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, the approximately $2 trillion social spending bill, effectively killing the legislation for now.

As Politico’s Jonathan Lemire reported the news, “The stunning decision by Sen. Joe Manchin on Sunday to announce his opposition to Biden’s Build Back Better legislation handed the president a stinging defeat.”

The headline at Rolling Stone magazine was even more brutal: “Joe Manchin Just Tore Out the Heart of Biden’s Agenda.”

Manchin made the announcement on Fox News, repeating his concerns about inflation, the national debt, and the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said.

In an unusual move, the White House responded by attacking Manchin’s credibility, suggesting that he has been less than forthcoming about his position on the legislation.

“Sen. Manchin’s comments this morning on Fox (News) are at odds with his discussions this week with the president, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances,” said presidential spokeswoman Jen Psaki, “Just as Sen. Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.”

Pennsylvania Democrats didn’t hold back their criticisms of their fellow party member from the Mountain State.

“All year I have said that Democrats should vote like Democrats and actually deliver for the American people,” said Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate. “If I was in D.C. I would proudly vote for this bill. If you trust me with your vote in 2022, you’ll always have mine in Washington D.C.”

Incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t seeking re-election next year.

Montgomery County Commissioner’s Chair Val Arkoosh, another Democrat in the Senate primary, tweeted: “Build Back Better marks the most significant climate action ever and meaningful investment in working families. Pennsylvanians and Americans are expecting us to act. And something is deeply wrong in Washington when one senator can block that progress.”

Including Manchin, there are at least 51 votes against the Build Back Better bill, and political pundits believe there are more Democrats, like Sen. Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, who would also oppose the legislation if it came to the floor in its current form.

For Delaware Valley Democrats in the House of Representatives, Manchin’s decision is particularly problematic. They have already voted for a more progressive version of the bill that included controversial policies on state and local tax breaks, green energy, and illegal immigration.

“The Build Back Better Act is not the President’s agenda. It’s the people’s agenda,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester). “This package includes policies that center on American workers, families, students, and the only planet we have—it’s worth fighting for.

“In my few short years down in Washington, I’ve come to understand that legislation like BBB can be much like Schrodinger’s cat-when you think it’s alive, it’s dead. When you think it’s done, it lives. It’s not over until it’s over. It’s too important to look away and give up the ghost.”

“Congresswoman Scanlon is disappointed in Senator Manchin’s statement that he is not willing to support the Build Back Better Act, as the policies contained in the legislation are very popular with her constituents: making the richest Americans pay their fair share, lowering the cost of expenses that keep most Americans up at night (such as child care, health care, and prescription drugs), and making long overdue investments in family leave and our veterans health care,” said Lauren Cox, a spokeswoman for Scanlon (D-Delaware Co.). “She stands by her vote and intends to continue working to pass laws that will enable all families in her district to fully participate and succeed in the 21st century economy.”

Her fellow House member, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Allegheny), tweeted: “I voted for Build Back Better once in the House, & would absolutely vote for it again in the Senate. The only question in this #PASen primary is who you think can beat the Republicans to get there. I’ve done that before, too.”

Lamb is also running in the Democratic Senate primary, as is State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), who took to Twitter with a personal message.

“Both of my parents had diabetes. I watched my mom ration insulin routinely because she had to choose to either cover the rent or get a refill. Because of how much she loved her kids, she chose us,” Kenyatta wrote.

“I buried her when I was 26. Passing BBB isn’t hypothetical to me and so many. In the U.S. Senate you can bet your ass I’d be fighting like hell to deliver on this transformative agenda.”

Although Build Back Better has strong support among Democrats, except Manchin, it was unpopular among the general public, according to Scott Rasmussen.

“At a time when 92 percent of voters see that inflation is a serious problem, most agree with Manchin that the president’s plan would have made things worse,” according to a Rasmussen poll. “The survey also found that 56 percent believe the Build Back Better plan being considered by Congress will make things worse by increasing inflation. Just 14 percent think that legislative plan will help by reducing inflation.”

And what will it mean to Democrats in swing states like Pennsylvania hoping to win races in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.?

“The Build Back Better plan was sold to progressives as inevitable but included so many unpopular provisions that it was unsupportable,” Rasmussen told Delaware Valley Journal.
“The voters who are most enthusiastic at this moment are those who prefer Trump-like policies. The only bad news in polling for Republicans at the moment is that the election is not being held today.”

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