In the wake of widespread death and destruction wrought by Hurricane Ida from the Gulf Coast through New England, and with wildfires raging across the western half of the U.S., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., inexplicably called for a “pause” on the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill this week.
The bill will contain significant elements to address the climate crisis, including transitioning to clean energy and funding resilient infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected Manchin’s call and insisted work would proceed on passage.
However, Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and a handful of so-called Democratic “moderates” in the House could still potentially wreck the carefully crafted compromise, whose passage rests on a knife’s edge. The GOP will vote in lockstep against it, meaning both senators must be on board.
Manchin and Sinema are “sticking their heads in the sand” in the face of the accelerating climate crisis, while opposing the $15 per hour minimum wage and refusing to lend their support to ending the filibuster. They are bucking growing pressure nationally and within their own states to support both measures without further compromise.
On August 22, the Poor People’s Campaign led a 151-car caravan from Boone County, West Virginia, site of the historic Battle for Blair Mountain in 1921, to Charleston. There, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. William Barber, laid into Manchin.
“The bottom line is, 100 years ago, Black and white miners were fighting against two things,” said Barber. “They were fighting against the bosses that were controlling the politics, and being paid in scrip. And they got tired of it.”
“Today, Manchin is blocking people from getting their due. And he’s blocking voting rights, which is allowing the elite to control who gets elected,” Barber declared. “It’s all wrong. And that’s why 100 years later, we would be dishonoring them if we weren’t standing up for this.”
Manchin maintains the reconciliation bill will cause inflation and increase the nation’s debt-classic Republican talking points. But everything he opposes in the legislation would reduce the cost of living for working families, including subsidies for health care, free community college tuition, child care, construction of affordable housing, and expansion of Medicare to include hearing, vision, and dental.
Evidently, Manchin believes he stands a better chance with voters in a state won by Trump in 2016 and 2020 by over 40%. His stance reflects divisions in the West Virginia Democratic Party as well. But running from Democratic policies has not stopped the erosion of his support at home, which has declined from 49% in 2019 to 42% in a recent poll.
Manchin is also bucking enormous popular support for programs in both the $1.2 trillion “hard” infrastructure bill and this larger budget reconciliation bill. A Data for Progress poll conducted in April and May among West Virginians indicated overwhelming support for the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan, and the American Families Plan. The latter two embody the infrastructure and budget reconciliation bills; the first was part of the earlier immediate coronavirus relief effort. Notably, nearly half of West Virginia Republican voters supported the plans.
“The budget resolution presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of all West Virginians by creating a stronger, fairer economy that works for all of us-not just those who the system has helped reach the top of the economic ladder,” said 35 grassroots organizations in a letter to Manchin.
“Implementing these policies and investing in our people will ensure that West Virginians and our economy can emerge from the pandemic with more opportunity than ever before. It isn’t enough to go back to the status quo of child care deserts, low pay for professionals who care for our children and family members who need long-term care, and where the vast majority of workers lack access to paid family and medical leave,” said the organizations.
Signers included the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, the NAACP, SEIU Local 1199 (KY/OH/WV), Casa Association, Citizen Action, and others.
The letter pointed out that funding for the child tax credit and other programs have already reduced poverty by 71% in the state. Budget reconciliation would extend the child tax credit and other programs and create 6,000 new jobs in West Virginia in the home care industry alone, according to SEIU.
When it comes to energy, West Virginia once boasted tens of thousands of jobs in coal mining. But coal is a fast dying industry, and only 4,000 mining jobs remain. Nationally, the sector lost 7,000 jobs last year and 52% of jobs since 2011.
Most West Virginians understand the future lies in the clean energy embodied in the two bills, whose provisions will create at least 3,000 new jobs alone. Even the United Mine Workers union and its president, Cecil Roberts, are coming to grips with that fact. “I think we need to provide a future for those people, a future for anybody that loses their job because of a transition in this country, regardless if it’s coal, oil, gas, or any other industry for that matter,” Roberts said in remarks to the National Press Club in April.
In addition, presidents of state AFL-CIO labor federations in the coal states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia recently issued a joint statement acknowledging the need for a clean energy future. “We know that federal climate infrastructure investments must include robust labor and community standards to benefit working people and communities across the region,” the labor bodies said. Further, they wrote:
“Following the ReImagine Appalachia plan would create over half a million well-paying, family-sustaining jobs in our four states alone. It would modernize our electric grid and repair the damage left behind by absentee corporations. It would invest in the jobs of the future by expanding universal broadband and growing clean, efficient manufacturing. It would restore communities neglected by deindustrialization and historically marginalized by outright discrimination.”
The infrastructure bill and budget reconciliation-and the transition to clean energy they’d help speed up-could have a transformative effect on West Virginia, a state in deep distress. The COVID-19 pandemic is surging faster in West Virginia than in any other state. At least 16% of residents live in poverty, the sixth highest in the country, and 40% are poor or low income, including 50% of all children. The state is the fourth highest in the usage of food stamps and lowest in life expectancy.
Poverty, lack of jobs, and poor quality of life resulted in 3% of the population leaving between 2010 and 2020, the most significant percentage loss of any state, according to the 2020 census.
Perhaps Manchin’s loss of popularity is connected to his corruption and deaf ear to what West Virginians want. Manchin faces scrutiny from investigative reporters who have exposed how he and his family profit from their coal waste business. His daughter, Heather Bresch, also played a central role in the EpiPen price scandal and then cashed out with a considerable fortune.
Manchin still enjoys generous support from at least one source, however-the Chamber of Commerce.
But 54% of West Virginians believe their state economy is headed in the wrong direction. According to Working Families organizer Ryan Frankenberry, mobilizing public opinion can move Manchin “by creating awareness, by making it harder for him to say no. To create the expectation that he must and will say yes.”
Originally published at https://peoplesworld.org on September 9, 2021.