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Manchin talks infrastructure, P.R.O. Act

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke with West Virginia press Wednesday as details of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan came into focus and two days after Manchin came out in favor of a bill meant to help grow labor unions.

Manchin held a virtual press conference Wednesday morning from his Senate office in Washington, D.C.

Biden proposed a $2.3 trillion broad infrastructure package at the end of March, though a specific bill has yet to be presented to Congress. As of now, the plan represents spending proposals and tax credits aimed at improving roads and bridges, drinking water systems, broadband expansion, public transportation, climate change and clean energy initiatives, among others.

The plan would be paid for by rolling back tax cuts put in place by former president Donald Trump, raising corporate tax rates up to 28 percent to offset the spending over 15 years.

Manchin is supportive of an infrastructure plan, though he doubts that the plan that comes out of Congress will be $2.3 trillion.

Manchin wants to see a measured plan that focuses less on progressive wish list items and more on real infrastructure projects. He also wants to see separate bills instead of one big omnibus bill.

“I want to make sure that we get a good infrastructure bill, and I mean infrastructure,” Manchin said. “We can do caretaking the economy. We can do research and development. We can do all the manufacturing. We can do all that in separate pieces of legislation. If we can’t come together on an infrastructure, then God help us all.”

Manchin’s influence has already lowered the 28 percent tax increase to 25 percent, which he said is more palatable to businesses. Manchin also wants to make sure Republicans have a seat at the negotiating table when the plan is crafted. Manchin said Republican and Democratic congressional leaders were meeting Wednesday to iron out differences.

“I would hope to see Democrats and Republicans agreeing on infrastructure,” he said. “I would tell my Republican friends and colleagues that we should be doing something in a bipartisan way … hopefully we can come to an agreement, whether it be Democrats and Republicans, on an infrastructure-only bill.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is part of a group of Republican lawmakers negotiating a more-targeted infrastructure package. According to Politico, the Senate Republican infrastructure plan would cost between $600 billion and $800 billion and be paid for by user fees — including fees on owners of electric vehicles who don’t pay gasoline taxes — and unspent federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

“We have money within the COVID bills, Shelley is right there,” Manchin said. “We’ve talked about this. We think there’s money in there. We want to see how it’s been spent. A lot of money that we put in the COVID bill went to replace … the loss of revenue they had because of COVID. It might not have been used as much for construction.”

Manchin also went into more detail on his decision to become a co-sponsor for the Right to Organize (P.R.O.) Act, a bill that would prohibit states from passing or enforcing right-to-work laws that give workers the choices whether to join or pay dues and fees to a labor union.

Some groups, such as the pro right-to-work Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, accused Manchin of changing his position on the bill due to a social media campaign by the progressive Democratic Socialists of America.

Manchin said he was less interested in the right-to-work prohibitions and more interested in the P.R.O. Act’s provisions that would extend federal labor rules and organizing rights to independent contractors and provide penalties for businesses and companies that attempt to retaliate against employees who attempt to unionize.

“If the companies come here and treat their employees right with good working conditions, good pay, good benefits and treat them with respect, there’s not a problem,” Manchin said. “When people believe they need a union and they vote to get a union to represent them, 50 percent of them fail. So just the fairness of the system is why I’m involved. I want to make sure it’s fair. I want to make sure that people are treated right, that they’re paid fairly and they get good benefits.”

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