By Douglas John Imbrogno | Editor, WestVirginiaVille.com
You could compose a colorful graduate thesis on the varieties of astonishment, pleasure, and self-repudiation expressed by members of the chattering class after the surprise commando raid Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin executed this month, reclaiming a portion of the territory lost by the demise of the Biden Administration’s original Build Back Better bill.
The Inflation Reduction Act, just passed out of the Senate this week, is a far slimmer bill than BBB, but still a significant and genuinely historic one. The IRA rightfully earns the headline Talking Points Memo awarded it, summing it up as a ‘Sweeping Climate, Health Care And Tax Bill, and calling it “a huge step forward on the party’s agenda after more than a year of halting negotiations“:
The bill dedicates more than $300 billion to green energy incentives and climate spending, putting the U.S. on course to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. It also extends Affordable Care Act subsidies for three years, avoiding a coverage-loss calamity, and lets Medicare negotiate down some prescription drug prices.
Named the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the bill would also raise more than $700 billion through provisions including a 15 percent minimum corporate tax on businesses making $1 billion or more, beefing up IRS enforcement of tax evaders, and a tax on stock buybacks. It would reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.Talking Points Memo: “Democrats’ Sweeping Climate, Health Care And Tax Bill Has Passed The Senate”
That line in TPM’s piece — “after more than a year of halting negotiations” — is doing a lot of work here. WestVirginiaVille joined its own tiny voice in a Mormon Tabernacle Choir of international condemnation for the depth charges dropped by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, while blowing up the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better dreams for transformative social and climate legislation. If BBB were a car sitting overnight in a bad neighborhood, come upon by Manchin and his monkey wrenching partner Kyrsten Sinema, by dawn that car sat on blocks, its wheels, engine, and stereo gone into the night.
And yet … We now have what is being rightly hailed as the most significant climate bill ever passed.
What was stripped from the original bill is significant. As Paul Krugman noted in a Twitter thread yesterday: “What was lost was a lot of social spending — child tax credits, pre-K, and more. These losses are tragic: we will be a poorer, less just society than we could have been (and might yet become if Democrats pull an upset in November).”
But what remains is … well, let’s let Krugman say it:
For non-social media users, BFD is being used in its second iteration seen here at the All Acronyms explainer site …
The Inflation Reduction Act still needs to be passed by the House of Representatives, a mostly foregone conclusion (one prays). As the Senate version rolled toward the finish line, social media rippled with astonishment. Or pick your own synonym: Wonderment? Stupefaction? Ryan Grim’s substack was emblematic: “A Manchin Miracle?”
There were mea culpas, too, for some of us who laid down a scorched earth trail of criticism of Manchin and his BBB blocking crew of two, not to mention the once seemingly hapless Senate Democratic majordomo Chuck Schumer:
So, then, am I sitting down to the same menu of Crow a la Steak Sauce as Nichols? I, who devoted an entire edition of WestVirginiaVille to the theme of “Is Joe Manchin the Anti-Byrd?”, slamming his failure to stand with the grand ambitions of that other notable Joe in D.C. In the aftermath of what appeared Manchin’s final and not-so-merciful coup de grace to BBB, we also published: “10 Things to Say About Joe Manchin After He Kills Off Biden’s Climate Initiatives for Good.”
In short, I will decline that dinner invitation, but will quickly express sincere, if qualified, gratitude to Senator Manchin. The precise point of all of that coverage was to encourage the arrival of this cavalry, as the doomsday clock wound down on a possible last-ditch Democratic effort on climate legislation for many years to come.
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In a Twitter comment I made to Nichol’s ‘A1 sauce’ tweet, I wrote:
“I feel that. On the other hand, all the dumping — and on Manchin, too — may have helped focus their attention on the finish line.”
In this site’s own small way, we have deliberately played a sort of ‘bad cop‘ to the tens of thousands of ‘good cop‘ efforts within West Virginia. That is to say, the countless worthy phone calls, op-eds, and endless encouragements to Joe Manchin (‘C’mon. Joe!!!‘) to do the right thing by standing up for the Biden Administration’s progressive aims.
I have devoted my own chunk of time to such efforts. For instance, conceiving and executive producing the music video “Hey Joe” (set to “Hey Jude”), featuring “Mountain Stage” band leader Ron Sowell and a chorus of West Virginians, harmonically urging Manchin to support Build Back Better.
It is hard to know the exact stew of motivations that lurk beneath the suitcoat and tie of Joe Manchin. Yet it seems to me just as possible that the ‘bad cop’ messaging when Build Back Better ground to a halt — and a global chorus of criticism and ‘You want THIS to be your legacy?!’ rained upon his head — may have had as much resonance as all those ‘good cop’ entreaties. (Or did they work in tandem?)
Beyond such questions, attention must be paid to the details of what deals were struck to finally bring Manchin back to the table. This includes continued wariness for the senator’s ongoing proselytizing, repping, and profiting from a fossil fuel industry fast becoming a fossil as the climate crisis fast becomes existential.
My former colleague Ken Ward’s investigative site, Mountain State Spotlight, co-produced with Pro Publica an Aug. 5, 2022 story by Ken and Alexa Beyer, titled: “Joe Manchin’s price for supporting the climate change bill: a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia.”
And the New York Times came out this week with a story about how those donors win in the new IRA climate deal:
Mr. Manchin’s recent surprise agreement to back the Biden administration’s historic climate legislation came about in part because the senator was promised something in return: not only support for the pipeline in his home state, but also expedited approval for pipelines and other infrastructure nationwide, as part of a wider set of concessions to fossil fuels … It was a big win for a pipeline industry that, in recent years, has quietly become one of Mr. Manchin’s biggest financial supporters.NYTimes: “Manchin’s Donors Include Pipeline Giants That Win in His Climate Deal”
So, there’s that.
But for today, for right now, Joe Manchin deserves some serious props. Bravo to Joe. And also bravo to all the activists and commoners like you and me, who’ve worried for the state of the Union and the state of the Earth. All such principled persons deserve to take a moment and breathe a most welcome sigh of relief, until the day’s work begins anew.
I will leave the final word to the wonderful E.J. Dionne, and his notable Washington Post column this week, titled “Senate Democrats strike a blow against cynicism — and hopelessnesss.” It’s a tonic to the politics of fear-mongering and nihilism spewed ad nauseum by the Trumpublican Party (since the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower’s era is as dead as a doornail and gone like the wind):
If Congress had done nothing, the United States would have squandered any claim of global leadership on one of the central challenges of our time. It also would have been a signal that our political system is so dysfunctional that it could not even enact comparatively painless, positive incentives for moving toward cleaner energy …
Nothing feeds cynicism about democracy and collective action more than abject institutional failure. That’s why what happened on Sunday matters. Despite partisan obstruction, arcane rules and dilatory habits, the Senate struck a blow against hopelessness.WASHINGTON POST: “Senate Democrats strike a blow against cynicism — and hopelessness”
Given our whole edition of WestVirginiaVille comparing the legacies of Manchin and Robert C. Byrd (Joe came up seriously short when measuring late-career accomplishments on behalf of the Republic), we hereby award him a bunch of ‘Byrd Points’ for mostly doing the right thing as the clock wound down.
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STORY INDEX FOR AUGUST, 2022
1 | EDITORS/NOTE: From Legislators to Lost River, thistles to abortion bans: In the midst of all the normal chaos of American and West Virginian political life, some good news breaks out. Plus, some worthy tales from worthy lives around the state. An overview of WestVirginiaVille’s August 2022 edition.
2 | EDITOR/IAL: Score one — a big one — for Manchin: The Earth wins one (with some important caveats) as Joe Manchin finally steps up and does right by the Biden administration’s grand climate hopes. It’s not everything, but it is a serious something.
3 | FIRST/PERSON: Why I Have Four Names: “They were both the most cussed, stubborn people you’d ever meet, my Dad and Mom, when they come together over something that stood them apart. “Both would not give up their position on the proper naming of you,” said K. “So, they agreed to disagree. And gave you all four names.” | By Joseph “Billy” Corduroy, reprinted from joebillyjohnbob.com
4 | ‘KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED’: Inside the chaotic week when West Virginia Republicans’ efforts to ban abortion stalled: “I can’t hear,” Senate President Craig Blair repeated from his dais. The body had just passed a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in West Virginia. The remaining pro-abortion rights protesters had packed themselves into the hallway beside the chamber in their 10th straight hour of demonstrations. “No justice! No peace!” | By Ian Karbal, reprinted from Mountain State Spotlight
5 | FIRST/PERSON: ‘A Wild Woman Love Story’: Once upon a time, a round-faced girl with curly hair and identity issues was told by someone (that genuinely loved her) that she was not “model pretty” like her sister but that she could be “mother pretty” … | By Angelica Gilleran, reprinted from BLACK BY GOD: The West Virginian
6 | PICTURE/SHOW: A West Virginia Walkabout from Elkins to Lost River: If you could use a West Virginia roadtrip, here’s a vicarious one, traversing from Elkins to Lost River. You’ll cover lots of ground. From August Heritage Center jamming at Davis & Elkins College, to the soothing solitude of Kimsey Run Lake in Lost River. | A WestVirginiaVille.com original video
7 | ONE/PHOTO: What the thistle tells: ‘the ants quickly took to the milk thistle this year. her bloom doesn’t last long. maybe two days. they seem to be in sync with this knowing, almost as if there is a pulse they can feel when she begins her bloom.’ | By Water Light
8 | CHARACTERS | The One-Armed Bandit of No. 1 Holler, West Virginia: The story of the “The One-Armed Bandit” is the stuff of heroes and legends. You may not know Gary Mays’ tale, however, as the major league career the West Virginia native might have had may have been blocked by racism. Yet nothing ever kept Gary down for long. | By Douglas John Imbrogno, reprint of 2016 Charleston Gazette story
9 | VIDEO: “WATER/CLOUD/WIND/LEAF: A Hoeft Marsh Melody”: Hoeft Marsh in Greenbottom WV is where I go off to when I want to get off the timeline of the world’s news. Here’s a short, lyrical recent visit there. It’s a little fishy, too. | A WestVirginiaVille.com original video
10 | PASSINGS: Recalling the ironic, sardonic, compassionate writings of PJ Laska: “It would be impossible for me to do justice either to his writing or to his intellectual prowess. But I will say, as a man, he always sought to share what he knew and never once came across as anything other than a person who could learn from any and everyone …”