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Manchin builds compromise

Photo by Steven Allen Adams U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin meets with staffers for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources before a meeting.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin hasn’t let the new-found national attention for his role as a crucial swing vote stop him for putting West Virginians first, but that role could mean the Mountain State benefits from the attention.

On Tuesday, Manchin, D-W.Va., had several committees to attend, including chairing the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, as well as votes on the Senate floor, a meeting with the governor of fellow energy state Wyoming and a virtual address to the Independent Community Bankers of America. All while being mobbed by the national press as Manchin navigated his schedule.

Despite Tuesday’s crazy schedule, Manchin still made time for visitors from Chester, recording video messages for constituents back in West Virginia and stopping to hug and talk to a member of the U.S. Capitol Police.

Manchin is no stranger to manic schedules. Sources who worked for Manchin confirm this was his style during his two terms as governor of West Virginia, a boundless ball of energy, always in high gear. Manchin was known to be at his best when getting different groups of people, like Republicans versus Democrats, unions versus business, together and working out deals.

After years of making public remarks about his dissatisfaction with the Senate, including saying the body “sucks,” Manchin is finally back in the role he enjoys of working deals between differing groups. While Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaking vote as President of the Senate, Manchin’s vote has become vital for President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats wanting to get Biden’s agenda through the body.

Talking with the senior Senator on Tuesday while walking outside from the Dirksen Senate Office Building to the Capitol, Manchin downplayed his importance in the process, saying any senator can be the swing vote. He credited much of his previous dissatisfaction with partisan politics.

“In a 50-50 Senate, it is everybody’s time,” Manchin said. “That’s the sad scenario, that no one else looks at it from that standpoint, unless they’re already in a tribal mentality. And that’s the thing that bothers me. We have gotten so tribal that it doesn’t really matter that much about our oath of office that we take, or the basic purpose of us being here representing our constituents or the concerns we had for our country.”

Manchin believes that with a split Senate, it can return to the role the Founding Fathers intended: a body meant to counteract the partisan swings of the House of Representatives. Whether one is a Republican or Democratic, Manchin will work with you.

During a Tuesday morning meeting of Manchin’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon testified about the negative effects of an oil and natural gas lease moratorium by the Bureau of Land Management as a review takes place. Manchin later met one-on-one with Gordon in a private meeting to hear more of his concerns.

Later Tuesday, Manchin was the lone Democratic vote against approving the nomination of Janet McCabe as deputy director of the Environmental Protection Agency. McCabe was the architect of the Clean Power Plan under former President Barack Obama to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2030. Last week, President Biden set an even more ambitious goal to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by between 50 percent and 52 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, a move that some predict would require the closure of all coal-fired electric power plants.

Manchin supports efforts to curb climate change, including supporting an effort Wednesday to roll back former President Donald Trump’s action that reversed methane emission regulations. But with solar panels and the rare earth metals used in electric car batteries coming from China and windmill blades and turbines manufactured in Brazil, Manchin believes the U.S. needs to maintain its energy independence.

Manchin also believes the carbon capture and sequestration technology is close to effectively trapping harmful carbon dioxide emissions safely below ground. Using carbon capture to keep active coal-fired plants operational, finding domestic sources for rare earth metals (such as abandoned mine sites in Appalachia) and creating good-paying jobs in coal country manufacturing windmills and solar panels could help revitalize coal country.

“We need to be playing more of a part in the all-of-the-above. Everything,” Manchin said. “We’ve been blessed with all of the resources … and we can also play a big role in renewables and the fields of the future. I want us to be a player in the mix of everything.”

Biden has proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package aimed at improving roads and bridges, drinking water systems, broadband expansion, public transportation, climate change and clean energy initiatives over an eight-year period, as well as proposals not considered infrastructure, such as funding for home care for seniors and the physically and developmentally disabled.

That $2.3 trillion is on top the $1.9 trillion in the American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief bill passed in March. During his joint address to Congress on Wednesday, Biden proposed an additional $1.8 trillion for universal pre-Kindergarten and free two-year community and technical college education bringing total spending under Biden to close to $6 trillion if the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan pass as proposed. That’s not counting the $4 trillion spent in 2020 for COVID-19 relief under former President Trump.

Biden has proposed several tax increases to pay for the American Families Plan and American Jobs Plan, including raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. Manchin has stated he would prefer a 25 percent corporate tax rate and expects the $2.3 trillion price tag to come down.

“We’re going to have to pay for this,” Manchin said. “You just cannot continue to keep adding more and more on the backs of what we already have. We’re over $28 trillion of debt right now. It’s unbelievable.”

Manchin has also insisted any infrastructure plan must have the Republican buy-in, something the Biden administration has taken seriously, meeting with Republican senators this week. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., released a $568 billion infrastructure plan last week paid for with unspent COVID-19 relief dollars and user fees. With both Manchin and Capito on key committees that deal with infrastructure, it’s likely that a plan will come out in West Virginia’s favor.

“We’re positioned better right now than we have for a long period of time,” Manchin said. “Now we’re in a position where myself and Shelley are helping in the areas that we know … So, it’s a great opportunity for both of us to help our state.”

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