Opinion Joe Manchin’s trail of destruction is about to get much worse


HR King
May 29, 2001
Just when you thought Sen. Joe Manchin III’s shenanigans couldn’t get more damaging, two new developments tell us otherwise. Taken together, they suggest the West Virginia Democrat’s trail of destruction could stretch much further into the future than it first seemed.
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First, Democrats increasingly worry that the big increase in Affordable Care Act subsidies that they passed last year will expire at the end of 2022. This could spike premiums for millions and roll back a major expansion in social spending for a large swath of vulnerable Americans for years to come.
Second, with time running out to pass big chunks of President Biden’s agenda for combating climate change, a new analysis demonstrates that such a failure could have catastrophic effects over the long haul.

What do these have in common? They’re both partly the result of Manchin’s refusal to support even a revived and scaled-back version of Biden’s Build Back Better blueprint, which would have acted on both fronts.


Manchin has made noises about being willing to revisit elements of BBB. But it’s unclear how serious he is: Having killed BBB last year, he might be stringing fellow Democrats along with no intention of ever supporting anything concrete.
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Now Politico reports that fears are rising among Democrats about the lapse of expanded ACA subsidies. They were originally passed in the 2021 American Rescue Plan, to expand health-care access amid a pandemic emergency, and are set to expire in January.

This could result in a premium spike of hundreds or even thousands of dollars for as many as 14 million people or more, according to an analysis by the liberal advocacy group Families USA. It could have its most dramatic impact on millions of lower-income families.
The defunct BBB would have extended those expanded subsidies through 2025. Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are now negotiating over reviving elements of the BBB, to pass by simple majority with only Democrats. Some of them hope extended ACA subsidies will be in that mix.

But there’s zero reason to be optimistic. As Politico reports, even though Manchin has supported those ACA subsidies in the past, he’s at best “noncommittal” about including them in a revived proposal.

Jonathan Cohn, who wrote an excellent history of the ACA and has reported on this disaster for HuffPost, notes that a great deal is at stake. Expanding ACA subsidies has been critical to realizing the policy’s core mission of moving the country toward universal affordable health care, and letting them expire will represent a big backslide.
“This has always been the ACA’s unfinished business,” Cohn told me. “Millions of people will feel the effects.”
One might argue that Democrats should have locked in longer-term subsidies with the ARP covid rescue package when they had the chance. But in early 2021, amid the covid rampage, the country was sliding into catastrophe on many fronts. Addressing all of them required hard choices.

“The whole point of the ARP was that we were in a once-in-a-lifetime crisis,” Cohn says, which required “a bunch of temporary measures." But the expanded subsidies addressed a humanitarian problem that will outlast the pandemic, and letting them lapse will harm millions.
Now on to climate change: Climate writer David Wallace-Wells has a bracing new projection of the damage that congressional inaction will inflict. The picture is ugly indeed.
The BBB proposal would have included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax incentives encouraging the transition to clean energy. Manchin has signaled openness to reviving an ambitious suite of those tax credits, but here again, we have no idea how serious he is.

If nothing happens, notes Wallace-Wells, the consequences could be dire. Drawing on studies, he concludes that inaction could mean 5 billion additional tons of carbon emissions are added to the atmosphere and that we fall dramatically short of Biden’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

The final hammer blow is that Republicans are all but certain to win the House and possibly the Senate this fall. This would mean no action likely for years to come, which could translate into a lost few years or even a lost decade in the battle against global warming, argues Wallace-Wells. Worse, this challenge grows exponentially harder to tackle the longer it remains unaddressed:
With climate, every year of delay eats into our carbon budget, raises global temperatures, and makes the future path to any hoped-for target that much more vertiginous.
And a GOP takeover of the House and/or Senate means no progress toward universal health care for years, and probably a fair amount of backsliding.

Manchin’s defenders will insist that as a senator representing conservative constituents, he’s not required to vote with the party. If he opposes those ACA subsidies and climate provisions, then by golly, he should vote against them. But what makes this so puzzling is that on principle, he has been supportive of both expanded ACA subsidies and this sort of climate policy.
At the least, if Manchin is going to withhold support at this absolutely critical moment, he should meaningfully explain why he’s perfectly fine with the status quo — or far, far worse — persisting on both fronts, far into the grim and indefinite future.

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