Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has reliably been the most conservative of any of the Senate Democrats and is often seen as the last remaining example of the branch of the party that dominated in the pre-civil rights era South before many of the members of that faction decamped to a Republican party more in line with their fiscally restrained and racially polarized philosophies.
Senator Manchin has often refused to join the more progressive members of the Democratic caucus in voting for legislative priorities that go against his conservative bent, and, now that his party has regained control of the Senate by the slimmest margin possible — only reaching a majority by the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris— his agreement to any piece of legislation is a crucial ingredient to its passage.
With President Biden’s desire to pass a robust COVID-19 pandemic stimulus relief bill in a bi-partisan manner seemingly dead on arrival, judging from the response of GOP moderates only willing to offer up a third of what the president requested, the West Virginia senator’s support of the administration’s plan will be necessary for any passage through the budget reconciliation process that only requires a simple majority for approval as opposed to the 60 vote threshold that would otherwise be required.
So far, while Senator Manchin has not officially indicated how he will vote on the proposed package, he has been making comments that hint that he feels that the package is far too generous for his parsimonious views about government spending, even during this extraordinary crisis.
The idea that the Biden administration’s plans could be sidelined by a nominal member of his own party is a horrifying one.
Luckily, West Virginia’s Republican Governor Jim Justice has just provided some cover for Manchin to take a more liberal stance on the pandemic relief bill than he might otherwise prefer.
In an interview with CNN, Governor Justice contradicted the sentiment Manchin had expressed earlier this month when the senator worried about the fiscal impact of increasing stimulus checks to individuals to $2,000 from the $600 previously approved.
“I don’t know where in hell $2,000 came from,” Manchin had said in early January. “I swear to God I don’t. That’s another $400 billion.”
Governor Justice approached the issue with a more compassionate attitude than the spreadsheet mentality of the state’s senior senator, emphasizing the urgency of providing relief to a suffering populace over any notions of short-sighted governmental penury.
“We need to understand that trying to be, per se, fiscally responsible at this point in time, with what we’ve got going on in this country — if we actually throw away some money right now, so what?” Justice told CNN.
“We have really got to move and get people taken care of,” he said. “I absolutely believe we need to go big,” he continued.
“I believe forevermore that it was ridiculous beyond belief to have Democrats and Republicans fighting and couldn’t pass a stimulus package for months,” he said. “It was godawful. That’s just all there is to it. You had people that were suffering that needed to pay their power bill, needed to pay their rent or their car payment.
“At this point in time in this nation, we need to go big. We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move. And move forward and move right now,” Justice added.
When the Republican governor of your home state is less concerned about the largesse of government aid to its people than the Democratic senator, you know that the rules of business as usual have gone out the window.
Let’s hope that Senator Manchin can read the prevailing winds in his state and joins the rest of the Democratic Senators to ram this bill through to passage in the same way that Republicans passed their massive tax giveaways to billionaires without a single Democratic vote when they last had a Senate majority.
Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Even a Republican governor can recognize that.
You can watch a clip of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice’s CNN interview in the video below.
Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) calls for large-scale stimulus:
"Trying to be per se fiscally responsible at this point in time … if we actually throw away some money right now, so what?" pic.twitter.com/OQ2LhFTIS0
— The Recount (@therecount) February 1, 2021
Original reporting by Alexander Bolton at The Hill.
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