Sen. Joe Manchin is out there trolling us all again on President Joe Biden’s agenda to tackle climate change and economic inequality. This time he’s telling reporters that he’s certainly open to a package that could include increasing taxes on the climate and energy proposals and prescription drug pricing reforms. He even suggested a timeframe: “I’ve heard people say that before the July 4 break, you should have something done if you’re going to do anything because coming back might be futile.”
Note this is Manchin saying that “people are saying,” giving himself full deniability. Asked what he thought about that—whether it was a good thing—Manchin again demurred. ”If you can do something. I’m not saying anything’s gonna be done.” Then he suggested that he’s not talking to anyone—“we’ll look and see if anybody wants to talk but no, there’s nothing serious going on there”—but that he’s at the center of all the talks to know what’s going on—“Everybody keeps talking but I’ve given you the three subject areas we’re talking that I’m considering.”
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The objectively corrupt Manchin should be pleased and at least a little bit willing to start playing nice with Biden. One, he’s now been exposed as corrupt by The New York Times, which should clip his wings just a little bit, and he also forced a presidential budget catered primarily to him. Too bad The New York Times story didn’t come pre-budget; Biden would have had a bit more leverage to tell him to stuff it.
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At any rate, the budget is being touted by the White House as the biggest deficit cutter and most friendly to police, ever. Third Way is raving. But is it going to work? Who knows. “Senator Manchin is always willing to engage in discussions about the best way to move our country forward,” said Samantha Runyon, spokesperson for Manchin. “He remains seriously concerned about the financial status of our country and believes fighting inflation by restoring fairness to our tax system and paying down our national debt must be our first priority. He has made clear that we can protect energy independence and respond to climate change at the same time.”
He’s actually not all that into tax fairness, as it turns out. He’s already rejected Biden’s billionaire tax, a plan to impose a minimum 20% income tax rate on the top 0.01% of earners and households worth more than $100 million. That includes “unrealized investment income.” Manchin doesn’t like that. “You can’t tax something that’s not earned—earned income is what we’re based on,” he says, although you can entirely tax things that aren’t earned. “Unrealized gains is not the way to do it,” he told reporters, shooting down the 20% minimum tax. That’s what one gets trying to please the senator from West Virginia.
Note that Manchin is definitely on the record advocating for higher taxes on the wealthy. Just some other kind of higher tax on the wealthy, apparently. Also note that many of the wealthiest Americans don’t actually “earn” much of anything—they pay for their lifestyles by borrowing against their stock holdings and avoid paying taxes that way. If Manchin insists the only way they can be taxed is on what they earn, well, Manchin is full of shit.
While Manchin is playing hard to get, things are going to start getting hard, period, for millions of Americans as COVID-19 relief programs start ending, and there’s no Biden Build Back Better plan to replace them.
For the 15 million who’ve gained health care through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program in the pandemic, it means a potential loss of coverage. The public health emergency is about to end, and with it the requirement for continuous coverage on those programs. There were provisions to help ease that transition in Build Back Better, which included continuous coverage for kids as well as enhanced Affordable Care Act subsidies and provisions to close the Medicaid gap. But Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have killed all that. Now states—the ones that care about keeping people insured, anyway—and the federal government have to try to figure out how to not drop 15 million people into an uninsured abyss.
Other elements of Biden’s plans have been incorporated into the budget Biden released Monday in an attempt to keep them alive. That’s especially true of some the critical climate provisions, which Manchin has said maybe he’d be okay with.
A group of House and Senate Democrats are attempting to resurrect the long-term child care and pre-kindergarten programs from the defunct bill. They’re circulating a letter to Biden “expressing support for advancing legislation through reconciliation that lowers the cost of child care for families, expands access to pre-K, and invests in the early childhood workforce and infrastructure.” But as of now, it’s not at all clear how and whether these programs are going to move forward.
Not as long as Manchin keeps shooting down every trial balloon that’s raised. Maybe an ethics investigation into his business practices with his dirty coal money and coziness with fossil fuel lobbyists would constrain him a bit.