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Manchin and Sinema: The Senators Jeopardising Biden's Presidency

After four tumultuous years, Joe Biden's inauguration speech sought to unify the nation. Intended to cut a different tone from his predecessor's 'American Carnage,' Biden outlined the need for unity in a deeply fractured America. He promised a COVID relief package and major infrastructure upheaval, including parts of a 'Green New Deal.' Yet, twenty months later, Biden has plummeted in the polls leading up to November's midterm elections. Moreover, progressives on the left have been dismayed at his lack of legislative ability and inability to secure critical deals with Democratic senators.


However, their ire also lies with two senators—Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, or 'Manchinema' as they are sometimes known. The two have been a thorn in the Democrat's side. However, after weeks of compromise and haggling, they backed 'The Inflation Reduction Act' - an essential piece of legislation representing the Senate's most significant climate bill ever passed. Included are provisions allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and extend expiring healthcare subsidies. While the Democrats can claim this legislative success as a victory for the Biden agenda, this bill is a scaled-down version of the Build Back Better (BBB) bill touted earlier in Biden's presidency. The failure of 'Build Back Better' was down to one man. Joe Manchin.


The Red Democrat


In a 50-50 senate, every vote counts. The senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, knows he is in a uniquely powerful position. West Virginia overwhelmingly voted to reelect Trump in 2020, and the state is one of the most conservative and 'Trumpy' in America. MAGA flags and AR15s are flagship political rallying points.


Reelected in 2018, to some surprise, Manchin is the only Democrat to hold state-wide office in West Virginia. But is Manchin's centrism down to ideological tenets, or is something more nefarious at play? Following his rejection of BBB, he received a donation of $300,000 from various conservative PACs and executives. In addition, his donors include Republican mega-donors Ken Langone and Richard Le Frack. Le Frack has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump's sycophants in the House of Representatives. "I don't see leadership in this country. Thank God for Joe Manchin," Langone declared to the media.


Unsurprisingly, this has led many to question his status as a Democrat. Nevertheless, he voted with President Trump more than any other Democrat, notably voting to confirm Justice Kavanaugh as a member of the Supreme Court. This decision elicited outrage from the left of his party.


However, in Manchin's defence, his electoral base in West Virginia is very narrow. The state is one of the poorest in America and relies on coal manufacturing as one of the lifebloods of the economy. His reticence toward BBB perhaps underscores the decadent nature of his own state's economy. Any legislation curbing fossil fuel manufacturing is a death knell for Manchin's electoral hopes. So, why has Manchin backed The Inflation Reduction Act?


A ticket to the Sinema


Formerly a member of The Green Party, Sinema has progressively become less progressive. Rated as more conservative than Manchin by GovTrack, the Senator from Arizona has thrown a few spanners in the works for Biden's legislative agenda. Arizona is a purple state, which could vote Democrat or Republican in any given election. However, since her election victory in 2018, Sinema has clarified her intentions. Progressives should, however, not be so surprised. Sinema ran her campaign against Martha McSally, as a moderate, with one political operative claiming, "She's not hitting the progressive G-spot in the way that people want." However, what caused Sinema to soften her once progressive ideology?


The answer so often lies in the balance sheet. The Winklevoss twins, famed for their portrayal by Armie Hammer in the hit film, The Social Network, have poured money into Sinema's PAC. Their business interests in cryptocurrency are well-known, as is Sinema's position on the Senate Banking Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection Subcommittee.

While many Democrats value Joe Manchin for his ability to win a senate seat in a deep red state, Arizona is not West Virginia. Mark Kelly, the other senator from Arizona and a former astronaut, has not displayed Sinema's devout centrism. In office, she has stayed true to her moderate tendencies. Meanwhile, Democrats have castigated her for failing to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. In the eyes of Democrats, her nadir was when the senator performed a dramatic 'thumbs down' motion when voting against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The gesture cemented the views of many that she was beholden to her corporate donors.


So why have the two 'principled moderates' backed the Inflation Reduction Act?


From Build Back Better to the Inflation Reduction Act


Build Back Better was dead in the water at one point in Biden's Presidency. At the time, the plan included comprehensive and transformative provisions on climate change, tax reform and healthcare. The slimmed-down version, The Inflation Reduction Act, is one trillion dollars cheaper than BBB. While climate provisions and healthcare reform remain, the new bill dropped many social and child care provisions.


According to Biden, "the bill is far from perfect. It's a compromise." So what did Manchinema gain?

Sinema's main contention with the bill was a provision that would have partly closed the carried interest loophole. Instead, her amendment allows private equity professionals to pay lower tax rates. But, so far, she has remained tight-lipped as to why she has made this amendment. Even Donald Trump attempted to close this loophole. Speculation is rife. She is

2.2 million dollars richer, according to OpenSecrets.


Manchin knew specific provisions in the original Build Back Better were political suicide. The West Virginia Coal Association has criticised Joe Manchin for supporting the Inflation Reduction Act, saying, "it does nothing to innovate coals assets or the industry." His super PAC, aptly named 'Country Roads', would have dried up if he had supported all the provisions in the original BBB. Instead, he supports the new bill partly due to pressure from his colleagues on the Hill and partly due to assurances that there would be no hyperinflation following its passage. As a result, 2024's election may be an uphill battle.


So, are Manchin and Sinema centrist stalwarts or opportunistic kleptocrats? The answer probably lies somewhere in between. What is clear, however, is that Biden's Presidency now shows a glimmer, a speck of hope. So often thwarted by his two colleagues in the Senate, this time, Biden has prevailed, and will hope his image as a lame-duck caretaker, will dissipate. As every vote is of paramount importance, the Democrats will continue to rely on their support, albeit begrudgingly. 

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Tags: Democrats Biden Congress US Politics Manchin Sinema


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