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Why Senator Manchin Should Support Build Back Better

Posted on 21 December 2021 by dana1981

In his bombshell statement yesterday, Senator Joe Manchin listed several reasons why he purportedly cannot support the Build Back Better (BBB) budget reconciliation package. Manchin’s primary concerns do not apply to the climate provisions in the bill, and can be overcome through re-negotiating and restructuring. The reservations he expressed regarding clean energy spending are inaccurate.

Build Back Better's Structure and Economic Impacts

Congressional Democrats initially proposed a BBB package that included $3.5 trillion in investments, with plans to pay for the whole bill so as not to add to the national debt. Senator Manchin made clear that he would not vote in favor of a package more than half that size. This left congressional Democrats with two options: remove a number of provisions entirely, or scale them back by funding many policies for a shorter timeframe than the usual 10-year window.

Members of Congress were divided on this question. Many progressives favored the latter option, and won out in the previous BBB negotiations. Senator Manchin has long expressed his concern that this short-term funding approach is a “gimmick” because, hypothetically, future congresses could extend the programs’ funding without paying for those extensions, thus adding to the debt (although as a member of the Senate, Manchin would have an influential voice and vote on such extensions).

The good news is that this objection can be overcome by revising BBB to only include policies that are fully paid for over the 10-year window. The even better news is that the climate provisions in the package are already fully paid for. 

Senator Manchin also expressed concern about inflation; however, a veritable parade of economists have said that BBB will not worsen inflationary pressures, and 17 Nobel Prize winners argued, “Because this agenda invests in long-term economic capacity and will enhance the ability of more Americans to participate productively in the economy, it will ease longer-term inflationary pressures.” Moreover, in the wake of Senator Manchin’s announcement, economists from Goldman Sachs and Moody’s Analytics downgraded their forecasts of US economic and employment growth over the next year, indicating that BBB would benefit the US economy.

It’s also worth noting that a price on carbon pollution could generate even more revenue without adding to inflation, were one added to BBB.

The Climate Investments

Senator Manchin also expressed concern that “the bill will also risk the reliability of our electric grid and increase our dependence on foreign supply chains.” These worries are unfounded. As supporting examples, Manchin referenced power outages in California and Texas, which were caused by extreme weather events. In Texas in particular, last winter’s outages were largely caused by frozen fossil fuel supplies and an isolated power grid. California’s very limited blackouts (affecting only about 2% of state residents, for between a few minutes and 2 ½ hours) in the summer of 2020 were largely caused by poor grid operator planning during an intense heatwave.

Limiting the frequency at which such infrastructure-straining extreme weather events strike in the future will require curbing climate change. That’s precisely what the climate investments in BBB aim to do. Without BBB, US greenhouse gas emissions are projected to fall about halfway short of the Biden administration’s strengthened Paris pledge to cut American emissions 50–52% below 2005 levels by 2030. In fact, we would not even be on track to meet the Obama administration’s initial Paris pledge to cut emissions 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Although as Senator Manchin noted, “The energy transition my colleagues seek is already well underway,” it’s progressing far too slowly to avert dangerous climate change.

The BBB climate investments are critically important for curbing climate change and thus strengthening the reliability of the US power grid. Likewise, accelerating away from fossil fuels and toward domestic clean energy sources like wind and solar will reduce our dependence on foreign supply chains.

Fortunately, Senator Manchin’s BBB counteroffer last week reportedly retained much of the package’s climate investments. The White House and Senate Democrats may use this outline to re-engage negotiations with Senator Manchin. It would benefit the economy, the climate, public health, and domestic energy security if those efforts prove successful.

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. Given the failure of any other explanation as a matter of self-consistency and adherence to widely agreed facts, the parsimonious interpretation of Manchin's prolonged dance is that he's not honest and is acting for narrow interests not least his own, tactically slow-walking a Gish Gallop of spurious objections so as to kill BBB by simply exploiting the inexorable calendar.

    Other interpretations require increasingly elaborate speculation leading to "Manchin is both stupid and ignorant," while clearly he is not. Avoiding that, we're left with a more fundamental matter of character. 


    Appeals to reason wil fail with Manchin, because reasoning this out as a matter of best effort public policy based on best information is outside of the context of Manchin. Manchin's context is far narrower, as we can plainly see. Our eyes don't lie; Manchin is an owned creature of the fossil fuel industry, an embedded agent concertedly working to freeze the clock at a self-advantageous point. 

    Here's a fairly comprehensive summary:

    And a more concise version which captures many basics while also swerving a bit into needless speculation:

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  2. I have frequently opined that harmful leaders (all wealthy and powerful people are leaders by example) fight against actions that would limit harm done if they sense that helpful harm reduction actions would 'harm' their ability to maintain their developed perceptions of status.

    Senator Manchin claims he is not able to explain the merits of BBB to his constituents. And I suspect that his motivations against BBB are more than the popularity of people in W. Virginia benefiting from harmful fossil fuel activity.

    Essentially he is saying that although he is a leader and undeniably has the ability to be more aware and better understand what is harmful and what actions would limit and correct harmful developments, and that that understanding enables him to explain how the BBB helps correct many harmful developments, he chooses to be unwilling to better educate his constituents, likely out of fear of losing status because he suspects many of his supporters would resist learning to be less harmful and more helpful.

    Maybe an Independent Senator candidate who would be willing and able to explain the merits of BBB to voters in W. Virginia should be supported by the likes of Senator Sanders. Then Manchin would have to fight his Republican opponent to try to win the votes of the remainder of voters in W. Virginia. The majority of voters in that state may indeed dislike being educated about what is harmful and how harmful developments can be corrected. But Manchin losing the support of the voters who want a leader who will limit harm done could help him realize he needs those voters to maintain his status.

    Sometimes the wealthy and powerful need 'helpful motivation' to 'fear losing status'. The threat of a well supported Independent Senate candidate in his state may more powerfully motivate Manchin to support BBB than the many good reasons BBB deserves his support.

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  3. Historians can no doubt list many many points in the past when the actions of an individual had a pivotal effect on the course of events.  Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.

    Manchin, inscrutable or not, is having that effect here. But such is life, under a democracy, when opposing forces are finely balanced in the legislature.

    Doug, I have yet to read the summaries you have indicated.  An additional point is the impression received by a number of reporters/interviewers, that Manchin does really very much enjoy being in the limelight.  So it may all be as much his inner personality, as his standard political desire to improve his re-electability through exposure/publicity.

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  4. I'll take the simplest interpretation, the one that is not so much as interpretation as what is in plain sight.

    Made rich by coal, Manchin intends to stay rich by coal. He did what he must to make that happen.

    All the rest is peripheral, relevant only as expedient excuses to block the package. 

    It's our nature to make excuses for people, to strive to find the good or at least not as bad side, even if we have to invent it. Here we're inventing a lot of chaff to cloud our perception of naked, insatiable greed. 

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  5. Doug, yes indeed.  Occam would approve your explanation.

    For many months, I found it quite painful to see the disingenuous prevarications, the footshuffling evasions, the motivated reasonings.

    And I speak as someone who has, for many years, been hardened by reading the crackpot & bizarre motivated reasonings to be found daily (indeed hourly) on the WattsUpWithThat  blogsite.  But at least, the denizens of WUWT  are only trying to fool themselves, and mentally rub shoulders with their tribe.  (And vent some of their anger.)

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  6. Worth noting that Manchin and Biden seem to be reconciling and planning to re-engage in January, and Manchin seems to be on board with most of the climate investments.

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  7. Dana, I'm sorry to say that what I see is Manchin continuing to play Lucy, and we're Charlie Brown. He's had stunning success with running out the clock while pretending to negotiate an ever-changing roster of "concerns"— why change tactics now? 

    All Manchin need do is to dive a bit deeper into "negotiations" so as to reach  fast approaching crush depth. 

    If he gets explosive pushback from his actual legitimate constituency in the unlikely event they grasp how they're being screwed, maybe he'll pull up on the dive planes.  That seems unlikely.

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  8. Looking at Machin's  views and voting record on wikipedia, its a little bit hard to see why hes even in the Democrats Party.  Someone like this would typically stand as an independent surely? 

    Hes certainly causing a lot of trouble for the Democrats, and I agree his affiliations to coal interests look like they would be the main factor. Probably not the only factor. I don't live in America. Just curious.

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  9. Manchin has said he's basically an independent.  But I think he'll reach some sort of agreement.  For one thing he is technically a Democrat and the party will be screwed in the 2022 midterms if they don't pass anything.  For another he's got pressure from the White House and his colleagues and even the coal miners union.  And he did outline a deal he'd be willing to agree to.

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  10. This article is treating Manchin as though he deserves any respect even though he's obviously acting in self interest. Simply analysing his voting record on environment, and military spending should give us a clue. Re-re-re-negotiating on an already watered down bill was his plan all along – delay/obstruct and kill the bill.

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