On Thursday morning, with the fate of major legislation still in the balance, everyone in Washington, D.C. appears to be working furiously to please one person: West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Republicans aren’t working at all. They’re absolutely pig-in-sh*t happy with their current position of sitting back and laughing; content that the news will be ready to quote them on Friday about either how Democrats either failed to govern, or how Democrats are spendthrifts. And they are absolutely certain that the news won’t bother to note Republicans’ role in shoving the nation to the brink of disaster.
It’s really only Democrats who are desperately trying to determine what will please Manchin. But they won’t find that answer in the “top line” items that Manchin and Schumer scribbled their names on. The reason for this is simple enough: Joe Manchin profits from coal mines. He started the mining company Enersystems in 1988, and that company is still operated by his son.
Let’s make this really simple:
1. Sen. Joe Manchin makes about $500,000 each year directly from stock in his coal brokerage company.
2. President Joe Biden is proposing a higher tax rate on those making over $400,000, and both the infrastructure bill and reconciliation bill are designed to turn the nation away from coal.
Does that make the problem clear enough?
Manchin keeps repeating his unwillingness to support the $3.5 trillion figure currently tied to the reconciliation bill. The easy solution to this is … easy. Cut the years. That figure extends over 10 years, so drop it to nine and call it $3 trillion. If that’s not enough, be prepared to go down to eight. Or seven. Keep a minimum of five years on some programs as a backup if you really need to knock down the numbers.
But it’s unlikely that Manchin will actually be happy with that, because it’s clear what’s bothering Manchin is that both the infrastructure and reconciliation bills take steps to address the climate crisis—that little existential threat that will completely take care of the need for further elections if it’s not dealt with real soon now. Manchin doesn’t want that crisis addressed.
The coal industry is dying. The coal industry knows it’s dying. The coal industry knows that nothing will stop it from dying.
That’s not because of any regulation. It’s because coal is simply not competitive with any other source of energy in the current market. It’s not only more expensive than natural gas, it’s more expensive simply to maintain an existing coal power plant than it is to build the equivalent capacity in either wind or solar from scratch.
Coal. Is. Dying.
The entire game in the coal industry right now is to simply maximize the money that can be sucked out of the system before the final switch is thrown. To do that, guys like Manchin have become professional heel-draggers.
Manchin sees his entire job as doing everything he can to hinder the transition away from coal. A tiny fraction of that is because there are still voters in his state who attribute an outsized position to coal as a source of employment. A much larger fraction is that the coal industry is right now putting half a million dollars into Manchin’s pocket every single year, and also providing even more wealth to his family. That he refuses to just shrug and turn off that tap is not a mystery.
So bribe him. Not in an illegal way. Just bribe him in the time honored way that people have always been bribed in Washington, D.C.
Right now in America, there are about 41,000 people employed in the coal industry. That’s nationwide, including engineers, office workers, sales people … that’s everything. Of those, about 20,000 are actual miners in the sense that they operate some piece of equipment at a surface mine, or stick on a helmet lamp and go underground for a living.
Make them all millionaires. Set aside $20 billion for the purpose of giving every single coal miner in America a million bucks. Pay it out over the next five years if you want to look more reasonable. At the same time, make sure that West Virginia gets its normal (i.e., grossly disproportionate) share of the funds dedicated to updating the sources of energy. Then see how folks back in Manchin’s district feel about that.
But of course, making every coal miner a millionaire isn’t what Manchin is about at all. Because he’s not a coal miner. He’s a coal mine owner. To give him what he wants, the golden parachute will have to be extended to giving a safe landing to the jackasses who have headed up the brigade of those creating the climate crisis. Which doesn’t seem fair at all.
It’s not. Just do it anyway and get this over with. Set aside another few billion to make these guys—including Manchin and his son—go away.
Then sign the bill.