Sensible Joe, or Joe McNaughty?
Sensible Joe, or Joe McNaughty?
Is it about the interests of West Virginians, fossil fuel, or himself ?
By William Jones
Hackles are Up
West Virginia lawmaker Joe Manchin has been raising a lot of hackles amongst the Democratic caucus. Joe recently announced that he wasn’t on board with the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. In fact, he said he was considering voting no when the package comes up for a vote. He wants everybody to slow it down and delay voting on it until 2022.
Last Best Chance
The Biden spending measure is vital. The opportunity is here to raise millions out of poverty and pass a substantive climate policy. The clock is ticking. The 2022 mid-terms are just around the corner. Historically, the party out of power will re-take the House of Representatives, in the first two years of a new president’s term. So Manchin’s latest hairpin turn has attracted a lot of negative attention from his Democratic colleagues. As for Manchin, he can’t walk down the halls of congress without a flotilla of reporters following in hot pursuit, desperate to find out if he will continue to thwart his political party’s platform and his party’s president’s personal agenda.
Praise From the Press
Since his declaration, a piece in National Review has praised what it saw as Manchin’s fiscal instincts and willingness to stand up to fellow Democrats. A Brookings blog post argued that “his main concern that additional deficit financed spending adds to inflation risks is not unfounded.” A former adviser suggested to The Washington Post that Manchin is fundamentally mysterious and his vote is, as usual, unpredictable.
Counting the Money
Joe Manchin, though, made half a million dollars last year off his son’s coal company, meaning that coal paid him roughly three times the $174,000 salary he made last year as a public servant. Pundits don’t need to look much beyond that to understand what’s driving him.
And There’s More Money
Manchin has earned more than $4.5 million from Enersystems Inc. and Farmington Resources Inc., two coal industry companies he founded in the 1980s. He probably likes all the attention he’s getting, too. Maybe he fancies himself a champion of the forgotten man. But if on a given day you are trying to understand what Joe Manchin’s priorities are, it’s probably best to look to the priorities of the companies he’s gotten money from.
Lobbyists and Donations
In June, Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy told the Unearthed, a Greenpeace investigative outlet, that Manchin was among their key targets and that he’s participated in weekly meetings with company operatives. Overall, though, he’s received more donations from coal, oil, and gas companies this campaign cycle than every other senator. Manchin got $10,000 from Exxon Mobil for his 2018 reelection campaign. His top donor so far for the 2022 cycle is Tellurian Inc., a gas company.
Manchin’s spokesperson recently said the senator is in full compliance with all Senate ethics and financial disclosure rules. He also stated that Manchin continues to work to find a path forward on important climate legislation that maintains American leadership in energy innovation and critical energy reliability.
Denials All Around
Manchin has also denied the weekly meeting allegations in the Unearthed report. Manchin is working to ensure that the bill’s $150 billion clean electricity measure—the Clean Electricity Performance Program—will “protect and extend the use of coal and natural gas.” The senator has made it clear that he does not support legislation that would eliminate the burning of those fossil fuels — particularly coal and natural gas.
Politics can be ego-driven as well as cash-driven: Many politicians after all, just want to guard their piece of the congressional sandbox and yelp whenever that territory may appear threatened. But money certainly talks in Washington, and the kind coming to Joe Manchin from the fossil fuel industry appears to be screaming out against a progressive and meaningful climate policy.