Opinion The huge, hidden bonanza in getting Joe Manchin to yes

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Greg Sargent
Columnist |
July 28, 2022 at 12:35 p.m. EDT

In his epic account of ongoing convulsions shaking the global economy, historian Adam Tooze offers a dark meditation on our national future.
The modern GOP and its coalition, Tooze writes in that book, are fundamentally hostile to modernization itself, in the face of “challenges that the era of the Anthropocene will throw up with ever greater force.” Amid threats including our overcooking planet, the best hope of achieving capacity befitting “modernity” rests with the coalition aligned with the Democratic Party.
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The news that Sen. Joe Manchin III has agreed to a big climate change and health-care package should be viewed in that big-picture context. If the West Virginia Democrat and his party get this done, it will probably be with zero Republicans — while expanding the boundaries of what’s achievable by that Democratic coalition.
The deal would raise $739 billion by rolling back tax benefits enjoyed by corporations and the wealthy. It would pump $369 billion into incentivizing green energy, extend health-care subsidies for millions and empower government to negotiate down prescription drug prices.


Manchin’s statements show how he got to yes. After insisting that extensive spending would be inflationary, he now takes credit for scrubbing out allegedly inflationary effects, as the deal puts $300 billion into deficit reduction.
To counter GOP screams about raising taxes, Manchin says hikes will hit only the wealthy, noting that Wall Street has “been on a hell of a ride.” Manchin, you see, is only for rebalancing an economy badly unbalanced by elite rigging.
And on climate, Manchin says he backs investment in the technologies of a greener future, but without an abrupt abandonment of fossil fuels. So the deal does make concessions to the fossil fuel industry.
Yet as climate writer David Roberts explains in an illuminating thread, this would be our biggest investment in our climate future ever. One independent analysis finds it could reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Manchin represents the very outer reaches of the Democratic coalition. His breed of red-state Democrat has mostly vanished. Through his in-state brand and canny triangulating against liberal leaders, he has held on to the blue-collar and small-proprietor White voters who have abandoned the party but can still be wooed under exceptional circumstances.
So if Manchin can sell this package on his own chosen terms in West Virginia, that hints at new possibilities for Democrats.
We’ve long been told that in the hard-bitten, fossil-fuel-dependent industrial and Appalachian heartlands, liberal calls for climate action inevitably come across as out-of-touch “laptop class” elitism. It’s as if such ideas can be received only as jarring cultural signaling, never as policies that might actually benefit those parts of the country.
But the package’s climate portions could shift that dynamic. They would invest tens of billions of dollars in tax incentives encouraging generation of clean energy, the manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles, and the retooling of current auto factories.
Much of it can be thought of as investments in manufacturing jobs geared toward a specific social end — as industrial policy. What’s more, notes Princeton University professor Jesse Jenkins, it invests billions in the manufacture of green energies in declining coal communities.
“The new political opportunity is that this bill will deliver real benefits across the heartland,” Jenkins told me. He noted this could illustrate “economic opportunity in the energy transition,” which might “fundamentally change the politics of climate.”
Or, as Todd Tucker, the Roosevelt Institute’s industrial policy specialist, put it: “Ultimately, the way forward is to reorient climate towards jobs and security.”
And the tax proposals? They include a 15 percent minimum corporate tax, increased IRS enforcement toward rich gamers of the system, and a tweak to a tax paid by high-flying investors.
These policies recognize the tax system as the problem, notes Chye-Ching Huang, executive director of New York University’s Tax Law Center. The policies would reform a system that “is increasingly unable to ensure that wealthy filers and large businesses pay the taxes they owe under the law."
The proposals, at bottom, are about undoing the pernicious effects of elite tax chicanery on the capacity for public investment. Imagine if, in deep-red West Virginia, Manchin can sell progressive reform of these problems as hardheaded fairness.
Republicans will likely sit all this out entirely. In fairness, many GOP senators voted to spend billions on making our industrial base competitive with China. Both parties are shifting toward embracing industrial policy.
But only one is serious about our need for a far-reaching clean-energy transition and a full overhaul of a regressive tax system that channeled benefits upward for decades, or that overhaul’s importance in facilitating large-scale social investments in our national future.
That is what’s at stake, wrote Tooze in his book. “Either we take seriously the need to build more sustainable and resilient economies,” he wrote, or “we will be overwhelmed by the blowback from our natural environment.” This will require spending, Tooze wrote. Trillions.
The majoritarian national coalition sometimes aligned with Democrats represents our best shot, Tooze argued. But our counter-majoritarian institutions mean “the grip on power of that modernizing coalition is frustratingly weak.”
You can see that in the fact that the 50th senator needed to accomplish all this is Joe Manchin.
There’s still a long way to go before this proposal becomes law, including winning over a certain Arizona senator. But if it succeeds, that coalition, with help from its outermost reaches, might yet make headway in that direction.

 

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