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Who is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and why does he have such influence on the party’s agenda?

Joe Manchin has nailed the final nail in the coffin of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. Why does he have so much power?

Joe Manchin has nailed the final nail in the coffin of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. Why does he have so much power?
Tom WilliamsGetty

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has placed the final nail the President Biden’s agenda, after walking away from the negotiating table, again, over the Build Back Better (BBB) bill.

Manchin has presented many excuses for opposing the bill over the last year. Manchin and Kirsten Sinema (D-AZ) had successfully whittled down the proposal to a point which it lost support from progressive members of the caucus. In the end, not even these substantive cuts were enough to earn the votes of the two most conservative democratic senators.

In related news: Steve Bannon and thoughts of a prison cell

Manchin walks away...again

While, initially, Manchin did not like the idea of using the BBB bill to establish a new welfare program as a part of the package, he now cites inflation as his for reason for rejecting the proposal.

The package would have made historic investments in policies and programs to confront the challenge of climate change. Manchin, who is from West Virginia and himself is a former fossil fuel executive, has always taken a conservative approach to climate action. This has made him a target as he represents a real barrier to the structural changes needed to enact the legislative changes needed to protect current and future generations from the threat posed by climate change.

Defending his position, Manchin said he was one of the few leaders in Washington who had not “ignored the serious concerns” posed by inflation. The West Virginia senator believes that Congress must work to cut “unnecessary spending [...], produce more energy at home, and take more active and serious steps to address this record inflation that now poses a clear and present danger to our economy.”

These suggestions are vague, but one could assume that Manchin believes that the federal government should response to inflation by cutting or reducing social spending, increasing in oil and gas production, and encouraging the Federal Reserve to take more dramatic action to curb inflationary pressure in the market. Senator Elizabeth Warren has criticized this approach, citing concerns that it could reduce the power of workers by increasing unemployment as businesses slow borrowing and decrease output in response to higher interest rates.

“No matter what spending aspirations some in Congress may have, it is clear to anyone who visits a grocery store or a gas station that we cannot add any more fuel to this inflation fire,” said Manchin when asked about his position.

Many economists disagree with Manchin’s approach, arguing that he does not understand, or is ignoring, the root causes of inflation.

Consumer spending has remained high while inflation has taken hold of the market. Basic economic analysis shows that if there is increase demand that is followed by supply shortages, prices will increase.

Now, could it be that by giving households more money to combat inflation, further prices increases could be seen? Yes, but that is not what the BBB bill would do. In an open letter to leaders opposing Biden’s agenda, world renowned economists stated that the package could actually work to stabalize the economy because it “invests in long-term economic capacity and will enhance the ability of more Americans to participate productively in the economy,” which could help to “ease longer-term inflationary pressures.”

Bernie Sanders calls Manchin out for his corporate donors

Some of Manchin’s colleagues, including Senator Bernie Sanders, believe Manchin is using inflation as a scapegoat and that he never planned to support the proposal.

On the Sunday shows this week, Sanders told ABC: “You have people like Manchin and Sinema, to a lesser degree, who are intentionally sabotaging the president’s agenda, what the American people want, what a majority of us in the Democratic caucus want, nothing new about this.”

While Manchin would like voters and members of his party to see his rejection of the BBB bill as a good faith policy disagreement, Sanders is not buying it.

“And the problem was we continued to talk to Manchin like he was serious. He was not. This is a guy who is a major recipient of fossil fuel money, a guy who has received campaign contributions from twenty-five Republican billionaires.

President Biden was asked late last week if he believed that Senator Joe Manchin had been negotiating over the BBB bill in good faith. His answer: “I didn’t negotiate with Joe Manchin. I have no idea.

The same day his Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that she would not comment on the status of the negotiations. The comments from President Biden and his team make it appear that the White House is not taking the negotiations with Manchin very seriously. This approach is quite frustrating to progressives who are often the first to be attacked, blamed, and reprimanded for falling outside of the party line. It is increasingly clear that Manchin and Sinema will be not political price from their party for blocking the passage of the bill. At a time where Biden’s fallibilities are plummeting, one would think that he would be doing everything in his power to get his agenda passed.

Why does Joe Manchin have so much power in the Democratic party?

As a Democrat from West Virginia, Joe Manchin has a reasonably high favorability from both moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats. In a state that Donald Trump won by thirty-six points, Manchin has a net approval rating above twenty percent. Much of Manchin’s power comes from the fact that to reach fifty-one votes, Democrats are reliant on his vote. This means that when it comes to negotiations, Joe Manchin can make or break a bill’s future.

However, Sanders has a higher net favorability when compared to Manchin, meaning that Manchin’s moderate politcs does not make him far and away the most popular senator.

Some political experts also see Joe Manchin as a backstop for the party, which in most cases tends to favor policy that is more center-right, than center-left or progressive. The progressive wing of the caucus has grown in recent years, but the failure to pass the BBB shows that they still lack power within the party.

While Manchin is vocal in his opposition to social spending, there are other more conservative Democrats who can rely on the West Virginia senator to block popular legislation. This way, they do not have to bare the political consequences for their policy positions.

There are still twenty-seven senators who support keeping the filibuster with minor changes to its implementation. However, with Sinema and Manchin opposed to any changes, it allows the other group to appear more progressive on this issue.