Joe Manchin. Kyrsten Sinema.
These two names have been at the forefront of U.S. politics over the past few months. Democrats are frustrated with them because they are the sole reasons why many of Biden’s economic and social plans remain unrealized. Republicans like them because they are giving the GOP the power to derail the Democrats’ plan as the minority party in the White House and both chambers of Congress.
The most contentious issue that the two senators have been opposing is the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Due to Joe Biden’s aversion to ending the filibuster, which would ease quite a few problems for passing his agenda, the other avenue the Democrats can pursue is a budget reconciliation package. To put it simply, a budget reconciliation is a special parliamentary procedure in Congress to expedite the passage of certain budgetary legislation. Unlike most legislation proposed in Congress, reconciliation is a simple majority vote, so they would be able to bypass GOP opposition with all 50 votes. Sounds easy, right?
Manchin and Sinema, senators from West Virginia and Arizona, respectively, have raised concerns mainly about the price tag of the bill. They both cite the current deficit as well as the tremendous amount of government spending since the beginning of the pandemic which has, in part, contributed to rising inflation. However, these aren’t particularly valid reasons. Interest rates are at a historic low and will continue to be so, which means the government taking on more debt is much less of an issue than they say. Also, seeing that this bill takes place over ten years, it is projected to match about 1.2% of national income over the same period.
Additionally, Joe Manchin claims that he does not want America to become a “society of entitlement” if this bill were to be passed.
Ironically, he said this from the top of his yacht to a group of demonstrators on kayaks protesting his aversion to Medicare expansion. Before becoming a politician, he worked in his family’s coal business until his family’s name and political power ensured Manchin would win an elected seat in West Virginia in 1982 at the age of 35. He has been in politics ever since, and is the only Democrat to hold statewide office, in part due to his last name. His daughter is currently the CEO of Mylan, most widely known for increasing the price of the EpiPen by over 500%. In Q2 and Q3 of this year, Manchin was the senator who received the most fundraising from the healthcare/pharmaceutical industry. Manchin also holds between $1-5 million worth of private stock in his family’s coal company, which is, coincidentally, run by his son. He also reported over $500,000 in dividends from the company in 2020 alone.
But no, we definitely *don’t* want to create a society of entitlement.
Don’t get me wrong, $3.5 trillion is a nearly incomprehensible amount of money. However, as previously mentioned, this bill would be paid over a ten year period. With that in mind, this would make the bill roughly $350 billion a year.
Earlier this summer, Congress passed a defense spending budget of $753 billion with almost full congressional approval. Just recently, another $25 billion was approved by Congress, bringing that total to $778 billion.
This number seems a lot smaller than the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill I’m talking about, right? But remember, that $3.5 trillion is over ten years. The defense budget is annual. So, in reality, the reconciliation bill cost per year comes out to be less than half of our defense budget.
I wonder why Manchin and Sinema did not raise a single concern about the defense spending price tag?
This highlights one of the main problems with media coverage of the reconciliation bill. All of the emphasis is on the bottom-line dollar amount, without talking about its ten-year payment plan and the specifics of the bill that would materially improve the quality of life for millions of Americans.
I wonder why that is? What could possibly be the reason?
Moving on from that, Manchin has recently made public comments that he would only vote for a $1.5 trillion bill. Often, he follows this by saying Biden and other congressional Democrats need to pick and choose a few of the things they want to remain in the bill and remove everything else. The media gives him a free pass on this one.
Sinema is adamant about passing the infrastructure bill along with a reduced-value reconciliation bill. She is opposed to raising corporate taxes, wants to cut spending on the social safety programs, and wants to get rid of a few of the climate change initiatives set forth in the bill.
Similar to Manchin, Sinema has seen an outrageous increase in funding from the pharmaceutical industry, as well as ultra-wealthy corporate donors who benefit from her aversion to raising taxes.
Sinema raised just over $1 million in Q3 of this year, with over 90% of that funding coming from beyond the state of Arizona. It is clear that those who elected her in a state dealing with extreme heat, little pandemic unemployment assistance, poor post-pandemic labor safety regulations, and a GOP trying to change election laws to increase the state legislature’s (overwhelmingly Republican) power, have lost most of their faith in her to represent their interests.
While Arizonians grapple with a wide range of issues and insecurities, Sinema took the week off to fundraise in Europe with the ultra-wealthy to raise money for her campaign. She actively recognizes that she has lost the support of the people who voted for her, and knows that to stay competitive for a future Senate race she must find money elsewhere. As most establishment politicians do, they turn to corporations and the wealthy in exchange for protecting their interests. We have seen this play out perfectly with Sinema. She ran for Congress in the early 2010s in Arizona on a platform of workers’ rights and protections. In less than ten years, she is now raising significant amounts of money from business groups that oppose the reconciliation bill. Again, the media frames her opposition as wanting to decrease the overall price of the bill, without going into detail about what exactly she opposes.
It shouldn’t be this way at all. The $3.5 trillion is agreed upon by 48 Senators, the President and Vice President, and close to 70% of the country. Instead, the media is framing this as a “huge win for Biden-backed progressives,” when in reality it is two members of the Democratic Party derailing the President’s agenda.
If the senator from West Virginia is opposed to a bill that he is in the extreme minority of opposing, he needs to publicly and explicitly state what he wants removed. It should not be the responsibility of the majority to do this for him.
Here is a list of some of the the most prominent things in the reconciliation package:
- Two years of free community college
- Expanded child care and universal pre-K (would keep child care costs at or below 7% of most families’ income)
- Medicare expansion to cover dental, hearing, and vision
- Extended child tax credit
- Cut prescription drug prices
- Paid family (maternal and paternal) and medical leave
- Would be the first time in U.S. history that federal legislation declared this
- Clean electricity performance program
- Tax credits to abiding companies, penalties to those who don’t comply
- Subsidizing electric vehicles and charging stations
- Financial penalties for oil and gas companies
- Close to $350 billion in housing credits and renters assistance programs
Again, this is just part of what the bill entails. Seeing that Senator Joe Manchin wants to reduce the size of this bill, I think it would be much more beneficial if the media were to ask him what he wants to remove from the bill.
So, what is it, Senator? Do you want to get rid of universal Pre-K and child care because those children should not grow up “entitled?” Do you oppose expanding healthcare because that’s “socialism?” Don’t want to cut drug and pharmaceutical prices so your daughter’s company can continue to price-gouge people out of life-saving medicine while increasing company profits to record levels? Would your son’s coal company lose too much money from climate change initiatives, driving down the price of your stock holdings? Are you afraid of losing fundraising from oil and gas companies? Should affordable housing not be offered to the working class because they need to “work harder?”
Just earlier this week, Manchin told the White House that he would agree to extended child tax credits if the income cap for the families was $60,000 and there was a “firm” work requirement.
Giving tax breaks to billion-dollar corporations and voting against tax hikes on the ultra-wealthy is okay for Manchin, but the idea of middle class families receiving some much-needed help with child care costs so that they can afford to feed their family each week is where it gets to be too much. They would become entitled, I suppose, according to Manchin.
It comes to a point where we need to start calling politicians what they truly are. Joe Manchin is a conservative in a Democratic seat. His positions are conservative. While most developed countries around the world have well-established and effective paid medical and family leave, reliable and cheap healthcare, and a better quality of life than a vast majority of the American working class, we have politicians who think these things are too much for the richest country to manage.
The American conservative movement is skewed much further to the right than most other developed countries. This is what also makes Manchin’s viewpoints traditionally conservative. He also self-identifies as a “moderate conservative Democrat.”
Allowing working class people to not have to spend the entirety of their paychecks on rent and childcare should not be a “progressive” standpoint. It is the right thing to do for the basic dignity of every human being, especially because we have the money to do it.
I would also like to challenge Joe Manchin. People are entitled to healthcare. People are entitled to housing. People are entitled to quality education. People are entitled to food. People are entitled to a basic and fundamental quality of life. These should be non-negotiables.
West Virginia deserves better. Arizona deserves better. The United States deserves better. We deserve better.