Opinion: Have We Really Seen the True Joe Manchin?

Just last month the Democrats’ “historic” legislative push, Build Back Better (BBB), hit a wall as it was entering its final stages. That wall was Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Since that moment both the left and the right have been in an uproar. Progressives felt betrayed since they had allowed the bipartisan infrastructure package to pass, which they had originally been holding as leverage for (BBB. Those on the left called for changes to the process and some even turned to President Joe Biden to get him to implement their plan through executive order.

Those on the right began talking about Manchin being a wonderful senator who stood up to the left and saved our democratic republic. There was even renewed talk about Manchin switching political parties.

For all the over-the-top talk on both sides of the aisle, people should sit back and assess what may happen if they look at what Manchin is really saying about this bill.

To pass one of the most transformative pieces of legislation in U.S. history, the Democrats knew they would have to use the process known as reconciliation because no Republicans would join them in voting yes. In making that decision, Democrats knew they could not lose a single vote.

The left went big from day one with a price tag that — at Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders’ request — originally soared to more than $6 trillion. Manchin did not want it to be as expansive due to the effect on a worsening economy. Inflation was quickly skyrocketing and the price tag to the debt, even with the false promise from Biden himself that the bill would “cost zero dollars,” was not something that Manchin was buying.

Every significant piece of legislation faces these moments. When we passed the First Step Act, the most significant criminal justice reform package in decades, I worked almost five years through several Congresses to find a moment in which we could put the final pieces together. Fortunately for us, we had bipartisan support for our legislation.

But there is nothing bipartisan about Build Back Better, thus the importance of securing Manchin’s vote. In the end, after the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, negotiations with Manchin broke down. On national television, Manchin put to rest BBB in its current form. But keep in mind, major pieces of legislation are always evolving, and I am convinced that in the end, BBB returns with Manchin’s fingerprints.

The question we are now faced with: Who is right? Are the progressives right in thinking Manchin is a terrible Democrat, or are those on the right who have lauded him as the ultimate senator correct? As in all things, perspective matters. My perspective is they are both right and wrong.

Hot takes rarely pan out, and these divergent points of view may be no different. Manchin reflects his background and his home in West Virginia. As a former governor, he comes from the executive branch and seems to always consider the implementation of legislation and its impact before committing. He represents a conservative state that voted for President Donald Trump and, according to the latest polls, holds the current administration in low regard. It is that perspective that gives him the freedom to appear above the political fray while being very political in his approach.

It is astonishing that questioning the prevailing thought among your party in Washington has become such an anomaly. However, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this legislative theater. As soon as he killed the bill, Manchin made several comments about what would be acceptable in a future legislative package. These ideas should cause those on the right who have been singing his praises to change their tune. He supports overhauling the Trump Tax cuts of 2017, he favors a radical prescription drug pricing bill, and he wants an approach to energy policy that keeps what we have while encouraging innovation.

The question for Democrats who are so upset that Manchin killed their hopes is whether they will come back and agree on a smaller package. If so, the final product could be passed and those who have applauded on the right will be left frustrated with the new bill aptly named Built By Manchin.

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