Tom Lewis

It is the oft-expressed opinion of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that if his constituents are given too much help by their government, they will become “entitled,” and might even form an “entitled society.” 

In other words, they might come to believe that they deserve help. Well, when millions of people are paying taxes to support an entire class of people called “public servants,” which is to say their entire job is to help people, is it so wrong to feel entitled to help? If I get in trouble and call 911, I do indeed feel entitled to a response. 

Am I wrong?

That is not the only opinion Joe Manchin has expressed that is a little odd for a self-professed Democrat and man of the people. According to many sources, he has said often in private — apparently he is sufficiently “woke” to know he must never utter it aloud in public — that if the government gave his constituents any more money, for example to pay for desperately needed child care, they would probably spend it on drugs. 

Also — again, in private only — he is reported to have opined that if people in West Virginia were given paid leave to deal with family illness and emergencies, they would go hunting instead. 

These harsh opinions of his fellow citizens undergird Senator Manchin’s stubborn resistance to the passage of the Build Back Better Act, which embodies the heart of the platform the Democrats used in 2020 to win the presidency and slim majorities in the House and Senate. 

In the words of a former vice chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, Chris Regan, the act “showers benefits on the state:”

“The bill gives 95% of West Virginians a tax cut. It extends policies projected to lift 43 percent of West Virginia’s poor children out of poverty — a stunning accomplishment. Build Back Better includes vital help for coal miners with black lung. The law’s focus on expanding health care and childcare in a state where many children are raised by their grandparents because of the opioid crisis make it an absolute godsend for families. Despite what Manchin says, it is an easy vote to explain back home.”

But Joe Manchin does not like it. In opposing it, he has placed his own judgment above that of his fellow 49 Democratic senators,  his president, and 68 percent of likely voters in his own state (90% of West Virginia Democrats) according to a poll taken in August. 

In claiming that enactment would cause worse inflation, he contradicts the consensus of economists who say that if all the money appropriated by the act were spent in one year, it would drive inflation up, but that is impossible — the money will be rolled out over a decade and more, and will not affect inflation. But Senator Manchin knows better. 

The senator worries that the spending authorized by Build Back Better will increase the federal government’s deficit. And he’s right there — the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it will increase the deficit by $16 billion a year for 10 years. 

This in a country that, with Joe Manchin’s unquestioning support, just authorized its military to spend $705 billion dollars next year.

Senator Manchin’s power to obstruct his own party’s agenda does not come from any special appointment or election  — it derives from the fact that in 2020, Americans elected 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans to the 100-member senate. By virtue of the fact that the Democratic vice president presides over the Senate., and has a vote in the case of a tie, the Democrats are in the majority.

So the power that Joe Manchin has to bring the entire Democratic edifice down by withholding his vote is exactly the same power held by every other Democratic senator. 

But every other Democratic senator (with the exception of wild card Kyrsten Sinema, a special case) is constrained by party loyalty, by the requirements of consensus, and by the determination to actually get something done for the people in a long-gridlocked Senate, to act in concert. Not Joe Manchin. 

Shortly after the former governor was elected to the senate, Senator Manchin told a mutual friend that he did not like the job, he preferred being governor because a governor can get things done. Now, one term and a year later, he has found a way to ensure that nobody in Washington can get anything done. 

Quite a legacy. o

(1) comment


Well said.

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