The most influential Democrat in the United States doesn’t reside in the White House. Joe Manchin’s a moderate Senator from West Virginia who emerged as a critical swing vote on Friday when he delayed the Senate’s vote on the $1.9T American Rescue Plan by threatening to side with Republicans if concessions weren’t made.
Manchin forced Democrats to scramble after he opposed the last-minute addition of a $10,200 tax exemption on unemployment insurance to the bill, which was included to take the sting off the proposal to reduce benefits by $100 weekly.
The lone Democrat representing red state West Virginia had committed to backing a GOP amendment that would cut off the $300 benefits at the end of July, while his party was pushing for an extension until the end of September. Manchin worries that there won’t be enough workers to open up the economy over the summer when he believes the vaccine will be widespread enough to allow for it.
“We want people to get back to work. We’re gonna have a hard time getting people ready to go back in to keep the economy going,” he commented in an interview last week. “It’d be awful for the doors to open up and there’s no one working… That’s the problem.”
Manchin has a history of voting against party lines, he approved Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and opposed Neera Tanden’s. He voted to withhold funding from sanctuary cities and to terminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. A 2018 study revealed he voted along with former President Donald Trump’s position 71% of the time.
The former West Virginia Governor is a self-proclaimed “moderate conservative Democrat,” who owns guns, identifies as pro-life, supports building both the border wall and Keystone XL Pipeline, opposes statehood for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, and voted against providing pandemic support for undocumented immigrants.
Though Democrats control the Senate by a narrow 50-50 margin with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker, Manchin believes bipartisanship is the only way forward for Congress.
“Now, more than ever, we must enter a new era of bipartisanship in Washington,” he remarked. “With tight margins in the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans are faced with a decision to either work together to put the priorities of our nation before partisan politics or double down on the dysfunctional tribalism.”
After more than ten hours of stalling, Manchin signed off on an amended plan to ax benefits on September 6th, and restrict the eligibility for the non-taxable component to households with an annual income of less than $150,000.
Although he ultimately sided with his party, he’s using his swing-voting power to threaten President Biden’s upcoming climate change and infrastructure package if the GOP isn’t involved in negotiations. “I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” he said in an Axios interview. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start trying.”
The legislation, which is expected to cost nearly $4 trillion, will only be supported by Manchin if it can be paid for with tax increases that would include hiking corporate taxes from 21% to “at least” 25% and repealing parts of former President Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
He worries the nation’s skyrocketing fiscal debt could cause “a tremendous, deep recession that could lead into a depression if we’re not careful,” but is optimistic that the package could be passed under a normal 60 senator vote. When asked if he believed 10 Republicans would vote in favor, he said: “I sure do.”