Manchin Insists He's Not The Bad Guy, As He Tanks Biden's Climate Agenda
Credit: Getty Images
July 16, 2022

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Big Oil) seems to be feeling heat after he once again derailed Democrats’ climate change agenda Thursday. He went on Hoppy Kercheval’s West Virginia radio program Friday morning to give his side of the story, one in which Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is the villain and Manchin just a guy concerned about inflation.

In Manchin’s telling, he did not tell Democratic leaders that he would not support climate and tax reconciliation bill he and Schumer and other leaders have been negotiating for weeks. According to sources for The Washington Post and New York Times and Politico, Manchin told leaders that he would only agree to the health elements of a reconciliation bill: lowering prescription drug costs and extending the expanded premium subsides on Affordable Care Act plans from last year’s American Rescue Plan. Politico reported that Manchin “unequivocally” rejected either July or August votes on the other parts of the reconciliation bill—climate and taxes—Democrats have to pass before the end of September.

Manchin, of course, tells it differently. “I said, ‘Chuck, if you’re on a political deadline and it has to be done in July, the one thing you know you can get done is, basically, do the bill—run the piece of legislation—on reducing drug prices, letting Medicare negotiate.’ … And [Schumer] says, ‘Are you telling me you won’t do the other right now?’ I said, ‘Chuck, it’s wrong. It’s not prudent to do the other right now.’” He said that he guesses Schumer “took that as a no” and that Schumer leaked this to get back at him, that he leaked their discussion as “this big thing last night—I don’t know why he did that, to put pressure on me, I guess.”

He said ”I want climate, I want energy policy,” just not right now. He said he wants to see the July inflation numbers first, after which he would of course refuse to support a bill because this is who he is. He’s trying to string Democrats along again. He doesn’t want any legislation to deal with climate change to pass. Just like he didn’t want it last fall. Just like he didn’t want it 12 years ago when he ran a campaign video in which he used President Barack Obama’s and Democrats’ climate legislation for target practice, saying he would “take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill, because it’s bad for West Virginia.”

Manchin said he told Schumer that “we can come back the 1st of September and pass this legislation if it’s a good piece of legislation.” Here’s where you know Manchin is lying again, when he says, “As far as I’m concerned, I want climate, I want an energy policy.” Or when he says he wants the health provisions, because Democrats need to act this month on the ACA premium subsidy fix, or it will be too late.

The only way any of this passes is with Democratic votes. Republicans are not going to allow Democrats to do anything that directly helps people ahead of the midterms. Manchin is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but at this point even Manchin knows this. He’s been around long enough to know how all this works. He also knows, though he pretends otherwise, that all his talk of bipartisanship is bullshit. Everything that they’ve been negotiating all these months has to be done with a budget reconciliation bill, which can pass with just Democratic votes.

As of now, Democrats have just one shot at that, just one reconciliation bill available before the end of September. It’s possible that they could do the health bill now and a climate one later, theoretically. But multiple reconciliation bills out of one budget in a little over two months’ time has not been done before and there would definitely be challenges. It would almost certainly require ignoring the parliamentarian, and you know Manchin wouldn’t let that happen. The alternative is the House and Senate passing a 2023 budget, with reconciliation instructions to allow a second bill, before the end of September. Again that’s theoretically possible, and logistically next to impossible.

President Joe Biden recognizes this reality, even while Manchin plays coy. The White House released a statement from Biden Friday afternoon, all but telling the Senate to give up on the climate/tax parts of the effort and to focus on lower drug prices and the ACA insurance subsidies. “Families all over the nation will sleep easier if Congress takes this action,” Biden’s statement says. “The Senate should move forward, pass it before the August recess, and get it to my desk so I can sign it.”

That’s presuming Manchin doesn’t renege again, a bet no one should be willing to take.

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