One Senator from West Virginia is getting lots of attention these days. Over the last week, we saw the sausage-making legislative process rear its ugly head in the Senate. But finally, on Saturday, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act was passed by a 50-49 strictly partisan vote. That’s right, not one Republican voted for the bill.
But the fact the bill was partisan is no shock. We knew going in that Republicans were not going to vote for it, no matter what the Democrats proposed – unless, of course, they lowered it so much that a couple of GOP members may have voted for it. Never mind. President Biden wanted the massive bill, and he got it.
Indeed, some watering down of the bill occurred. And we owe much of that to Joe Manchin from the state mentioned above, West Virginia. He negotiated to lower the income threshold for people receiving the $1400 checks and reducing the extended unemployment benefit amount from $400 to $300.
However, no matter how you slice and dice the bill, it still totals $1.9 trillion. And that’s a win for America, as we continue to cope with the fallout from the complete failed response of the former guy’s administration in dealing with the worst pandemic in over 100 years. We needed to go big, and we did.
But there’s something here that does not make sense. Why did a sitting Senator from one of the country’s poorest states insist on lowering what some people may have received from the Rescue Act? And by some people, I’m talking about folks from his impoverished state. Even West Virginia’s Republican Governor, Jim Justice, stated his desire for the bill to be bold and massive. But Senator Manchin had other ideas.
So let’s talk a bit about the great state of West Virginia and see what Manchin’s reasoning could be – other than making a political statement, that is. After all, he’s a politician, and that’s what they do.
However, no matter how you look at it, West Virginia is struggling. It’s been that way for years, and it’s even worse now, thanks to the continued decline in coal production and lower energy prices.
According to U.S. News and World Report, which does annual performance scorecard rankings for all the states, West Virginia ranks 48th in health care, 44th in education, 50th in economic performance, and 50th in infrastructure. They do a bit better in fiscal stability (34th), opportunity (30th), and crime and corrections (21st). But Overall, the state ranks 47th when compared to the rest of the country.
If those figures aren’t troubling enough, the state’s poverty rate is consistently ranked in the bottom five or six states year after year. The most recent available data is from 2018-2019 and shows West Virginia with a 14.9% poverty rate. That figure has indeed gone north since then due to the severe economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Once again, facts are an inconvenient truth sometimes. It begs to question why the Senator wants to hurt his fellow West Virginians by depriving those who need it most. So many in his state need help. What does he know that we don’t?
Democrats aren’t very successful in West Virginia and haven’t been for years. After all, it was a Trump state, both in 2016 and 2020; He beat Hillary Clinton by a whopping 42 points and did nearly the same against Biden. But Manchin’s bucked the trend by winning three Senatorial contests, although his last one was much closer than his first two. The state is turning redder by the day, it seems.
Perhaps Manchin thinks he needs to show some spine. Maybe if he flexes his muscles during negotiations by showing he’s not kowtowing to the libs, he gains support. That way, he gives himself a fighting chance when he’s up for reelection in 2024.
But Manchin is 73 years old. We know once these guys get to Washington, the power and allure of holding office are intoxicating. It can’t be because of the salary and perks. There’s something else that drives politicians to do whatever it takes to keep winning, even when doing so might take you well into your 80s.
So maybe that’s it. Manchin wants another term, and he thinks he needs to stay in the center lane to do so. And it extends to other things as well, including filibuster reform and raising the minimum wage. Again, you’d think he’d be more willing to get to a $15 minimum wage especially given his state’s dire poverty numbers. A poll conducted by One Fair Wage West Virginia showed 63% of West Virginians support a national minimum wage phased in by 2025. So it appears that his constituents want the $15.
But Manchin’s not there. At least not yet. On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, he acknowledged the need to raise the minimum wage but favored a less robust $11 indexed to inflation for future increases. It looks like maybe there’s a possibility in the future for movement on this issue. Perhaps somewhere in the middle might be a place we end up settling on.
Whatever the case, West Virginia needs help and lots of it. With Senator Manchin exercising his newly found power in Congress, they may not get all the assistance they deserve. It’s still hard to believe he will win votes from people by taking away badly needed funds. We’ll find that out soon enough.
Until then, Joe Manchin is sure to give progressives a fair amount of heartburn in the coming months. We simply do not know his true motivation. In the end, though, if the result is legislation that helps us get out of the mess left by the former guy, signing up for a little discomfort might be well worth it.
There’s much more to do. Infrastructure, voting rights, and immigration are on Biden’s most important to-do list. He’s going to need Joe Manchin for all of these things. How he navigates his party’s moderate wing clashing with the liberals might ultimately be his most challenging task as president.
A 50 50 Senate, with his Vice-President providing the tie-breaking vote on most legislation, will require Biden to use every ounce of knowledge and savvy he’s obtained in a nearly 50-year public service career.
By all accounts, Biden has a cordial relationship with Senator Manchin, which will serve him well. They often spoke during the recent negotiations, according to the Senator. And you can be sure they’ll be talking a lot more in the future. That one politician from one small state has this much power tells us all we need to know about the Senate’s dysfunctional inner-workings. Nobody knows that better than Joe Biden.