First, some broad-strokes background: West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin voted in lockstep with his party early last year to pass the Biden administration's COVID 'rescue plan,' which even prominent Democratic economists warned would be hugely inflationary. It was a massively wasteful boondoggle, spending nearly $1.9 trillion on a litany of projects, the large majority of which wasn't even directly related to the immediate pandemic emergency. Manchin and a handful of other Democrats have since admitted that the bill spent too much and fueled painful inflation. In 2022, after he and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (now technically an independent) killed their party's $5 trillion 'Build Back Better' inflation bomb, Manchin shocked Washington by announcing an out-of-nowhere deal on the so-called "Inflation Reduction Act," an additional binge that even Bernie Sanders admitted wasn't really about bringing down inflation.
That legislation, signed triumphantly by President Biden, doubled the size of the IRS (yes, this IRS), which will now have much more enforcement muscle to track down small financial exchanges from middle- and working-class Americans, thanks to newly-lowered threshold established by the 2021 "rescue plan." Quite a run of Democratic party-line achievements, isn't it? In order to secure his vote for the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, party leaders promised Manchin that they'd pass an energy permitting bill at a later date. It wouldn't be included in the major bill, but he it was very much part of the deal, Manchin stated repeatedly. Schumer et al had pledged to find a way to get it done during the current Congress. Manchin framed this as a big win for West Virginia, but more than a few observers were skeptical at the time, including yours truly. Here's part of what I wrote back in August, in a piece entitled, "Is Manchin About to Get Rolled By the Democrats?"
If Democrats extract what they want out of Manchin, with the passage of a huge tax-and-spend bill, couldn't even a small number of them promptly refuse to go along with the secondary assurances he's been promised? Those vows were sufficient to get his name on the dotted line, but that piece of paper could become worthless the moment the Schumer/Manchin legislation heads to President Biden's desk...Democrats have zero margin for error in the Senate, and close to zero margin for error in the House. A few defections, especially ones ostentatiously dressed up as vengeance against Manchin for tanking any number of left-wing dreams over the last two years, would imperil what he's been promised. Leaders could cram these items into "must pass" legislation, in order to jam opponents, but nothing would be a sure bet. Manchin has warned of "consequences" if either end of his bargain isn't upheld, but what does he mean by that? If Democrats pass the part that they all like, then the separate piece of legislation on pipelines and permitting implodes for whatever reason, what is Manchin going to do? Switch parties? Unlikely.
Manchin has now tried on multiple occasions to shoehorn the permitting piece into other legislation, to no avail. His latest effort to tack on what he was promised to a "must pass" defense appropriations bill also crashed and burned last week:
The Senate has bucked Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) latest effort to get his energy deal with Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) attached to must-pass legislation. The chamber blocked Manchin’s permitting reform amendment from getting onto a defense funding bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act in an 47-47 vote. Sixty votes were needed to advance the measure. Schumer had promised Manchin he would take up the legislation to speed the process for approving new U.S. energy projects in exchange for Manchin’s vote on the Democrats’ major climate, health and tax bill. The vote did not exactly fall along party lines. Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) voted in favor of the bill. Meanwhile Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), as well as liberal Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) voted against it. The measure was widely expected to fail on Thursday, but the vote provides Manchin a headcount, as he is expected to continue pushing for a compromise deal next year.
Manchin reacted to the failed vote with a tantrum against...Republicans:
“Once again, Mitch McConnell and Republican leadership have put their own political agenda above the needs of the American people. Energy costs continue to rise as we move into the winter months and geopolitical uncertainty continues to test the strength of international bonds while Putin weaponizes energy. Despite these challenges, Mitch McConnell and his Republican caucus voted down a bill that would have completed the Mountain Valley Pipeline and quickly delivered natural gas to the market lowering home heating costs for families and making America more energy secure and independent. I believe anyone who voted against permitting reform has failed to act in the best interest of our country as they dismissed the opportunity to strengthen our nation’s economic and energy security...As frustrating as the political games of Washington are, I will not give up. As I have said from my first day in office, I serve West Virginians and the American people with an independent voice not a political party."
First of all, the measure needed 60 votes to get adopted, and it fell 13 votes short. Ten Senate Democrats voted 'no.' Having stabbed them in the back by striking a bad spending deal with Schumer in secret, Manchin now wants Republicans to bail him out of the political problem he's caused for himself. It's revealing that he chose to blast the GOP, rather than his own party, whose leadership promised him that this would get done. It seems as though Manchin got bamboozled by the "frustrating political games" he decries in his statement, taking aim at the people who didn't sell him a bill of goods. He has a few more bites at this apple on essential government spending bills, and could continue this battle into the new Congress. Maybe he'll succeed in the next few days. Maybe he'll get something passed next year, which would require a Republican-led House to help keep Democrats' broken promise to Manchin. But thus far, Manchin looks like a sucker.
He gave his party and Biden the vote they desperately needed to pass their agenda, and has been left empty-handed on the alleged future "win" he'd secured as a concession from them. It's too early to declare the whole thing dead, but it looks like it's on life support. If he ultimately whiffs, a lot of West Virginians may start to wonder if there's any point in sending this Democratic Senator to Washington again, if he can be easily manipulated and tricked by the leaders his voters strongly oppose. Many of those voters have already started wondering about that, it seems:
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s job approval rating has fallen by double digits among West Virginia voters in recent months as he has played a pivotal role in advancing a pared-back version of President Joe Biden’s major domestic policy legislation, Morning Consult Political Intelligence tracking shows. This places him comfortably among America’s most unpopular senators ahead of a potential 2024 re-election run...A slim majority of West Virginia voters (51%) disapprove of Manchin’s job performance, according to surveys conducted July 1-Sept. 30, up from 38% in the second quarter of the year...The increase in disapproval was driven largely by West Virginia Republicans and independents, majorities of whom disapprove of Manchin’s job performance after expressing positive views earlier this year.
There was also this, from September:
A new poll released Wednesday by Jackson County radio station WMOV 1360 AM and Oregon-based Triton Polling and Research found that U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is vulnerable after his support for the Inflation Reduction Act.The WMOV/Triton poll looked at some hypothetical matchups between Manchin and prominent Republican leaders in West Virginia. If the election were held today, Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey would beat Manchin 49.5% to 36.2%, with 9.4% choosing to support a different candidate and 4.9% unsure. Morrisey challenged Manchin for the U.S. Senate in 2018, losing by three points. Manchin received 49.6% of the vote, while Morrisey received 46.3%. In a match-up between Manchin and Mooney, Mooney would beat Manchin 44.9% to 37.9%, with 12.2% preferring a different candidate and 4.9% unsure. Mooney defeated 1st District Rep. David McKinley, R-.W.Va., in the May Republican primary for the new northern 2nd District after West Virginia lost a congressional district. Mooney faces Democratic challenger Barry Wendell in November. Gov. Jim Justice would beat Manchin 46.5% to 32% if the U.S. Senate election was held today.
Manchin is up in 2024. Place your bets now: Does he (a) get permitting reform done after all, leading to a reversal in fortunes and re-election, (b) switch parties to the GOP, (c) retire ahead of the next cycle, or (d) run again as a Democrat and lose? I suppose there's also (e) fail to achieve permitting reform, run again as a Democrat, and win -- but based on the numbers above, that seems somewhat far-fetched, but not impossible. Manchin's seat represents the best GOP pick-up prospect in the next election. How likely are Republicans to bend over backwards to help him score a political victory, given that reality, and his partisan double-cross on behalf of Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer?