Manchin in the middle: Pressure mounts in West Virginia to oppose $3.5 trillion spending package


Sen. Joe Manchin III is facing intense political pressure back home in West Virginia to oppose his party’s gargantuan spending package of health care, family aid and anti-poverty programs, testing where the allegiance lies for one of the chamber’s most conservative Democrats.

The pressure comes as Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer is hoping to secure an agreement on the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” spending plan before lawmakers leave Washington in August.

As the plan is unlikely to garner GOP support, the only hope for its passage is via budget reconciliation, a process that allows spending bills to avert the 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass by a simple majority of 51 votes. Since it takes just one Democrat to kill the deal, Mr. Manchin, who represents the deep-red state of West Virginia, is seen as the likeliest to flip.

To increase the chance, advocacy groups, electoral rivals and even some political allies are upping the pressure.

In arguing for why Mr. Manchin should oppose the package, many point to its cost, clean electricity provisions and guarantee of amnesty for illegal immigrants.

“Sen. Manchin and I don’t always agree on policy, but we both love West Virginia,” said Rep. Carol Miller, West Virginia Republican. “This package is a liberal laundry list that won’t create more high-paying jobs for our state, and will instead saddle our children and grandchildren with the cost. It will also make America less competitive in the global marketplace.

Mrs. Miller, in particular, argues that new federal spending accounted for in the plan will only add to the inflationary spike Americans are seeing when it comes to the cost of goods and services.

Rising costs and shrinking purchasing power, she said, could prove potentially devastating for West Virginia, where per-capita income lags behind the national average.

“I have every hope that Sen. Manchin will oppose this bill and stand up for West Virginia,” Mrs. Miller said.

Some also argue that West Virginia’s workforce could be undercut by the immigration provisions existing within the bill. Although details remain sparse, senior Democrats say the deal will include a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are farm workers, have temporary protected status, or were brought to the U.S. as minors.

Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform are already mobilizing to defeat the package’s immigration component. On Thursday, FAIR released a poll showing that 52% of West Virginia voters oppose any amnesty for illegal aliens.

Furthermore, 55% of the state’s voters said they would be unlikely to support Mr. Manchin’s reelection in 2024 if he voted on party lines for a pathway to citizenship.

“The voters are very clear,” said Dan Stein, the organization’s president. “Any senator who yields to pressure from their party’s radical fringe and resorts to legislative trickery to gain amnesty for millions of illegal aliens does so at his or her political peril.”

Mr. Manchin, who in the past has supported immigration reform efforts, did not respond to requests from The Washington Times.

More than economics or immigration, Mr. Manchin is being pushed to vote against the deal over its mandate for a 100% carbon-free electricity standard. The policy would require electricity producers to phase out fossil fuels in favor of solar and wind energy.

Coal and natural gas, which are plentiful in West Virginia and key to the state’s economy, would be decimated by the move. The two resources produce more than 60% of all electricity consumed across the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration.

Mr. Manchin has called the idea of removing fossil fuels from the electrical grid “disturbing” and unrealistic.

“If my friends and colleagues think they can eliminate their way to a cleaner environment, it’ll never happen,” he said.

Despite the rhetoric, the senator has refused to rule out voting against the package if the clean electricity mandate remains intact. That fact has both allies and rivals back home concerned.

“In West Virginia, our biggest concern is ensuring that the Senate Democrats do not insert a so-called radical clean electricity standard into the bill,” said state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican who challenged Mr. Manchin for reelection in 2018. “This would likely destroy West Virginia’s economy. We are rooting for Sen. Manchin to strongly oppose such a measure as it would be so detrimental to our workforce.”

Similarly, the United Mine Workers of America is publicly renewing its opposition to a carbon-free electricity standard. The union, which is powerful in West Virginia, has long been a supporter of Mr. Manchin.

“We do not support a clean electricity standard, because it will obviously hasten the demise of coal-fired power and our members’ jobs,” said Phil Smith, the union’s director of government relations.

Mr. Smith added that he was hopeful any “language that has the effect of outlawing the use of fossil fuels, including coal, will get past” Mr. Manchin.

It is unclear whether the pressure campaign will work.

In the past, Mr. Manchin has shown a willingness to stand with his party in high-stake votes, despite the opinion of home-state voters. Most recently, he voted to convict former President Donald Trump in both his impeachment trials.

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