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Joe Manchin

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) listens as President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on March 1, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images)

Manchin Floats Watered-Down Bill on Climate, Drug Prices, and Taxes

"Senate Democrats must work with Joe Manchin immediately to strike a deal," said one campaigner. "We cannot let this make-or-break moment on climate fall through our grasp."

Jessica Corbett

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Wednesday signaled that despite sabotaging his party's Build Back Better bill, he is still open to passing a package that helps combat the climate emergency, lowers prescription drug prices, and reforms the tax code so rich individuals and corporations pay what he called "their fair share."

"If Sen. Manchin wants to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations, then Democrats should take him up on that offer."

The West Virginia Democrat's new comments to Politico and The Hill about a possible package came the day after President Joe Biden's State of the Union address and as progressives in Congress have renewed calls to enact the Democratic Party's agenda through both executive and legislative action.

Manchin told The Hill that "the one thing that we as Democrats all agreed on was the 2017 tax cuts were weighted unfairly. So if you want to fix the tax cuts and make everyone pay their fair share, whether it's the very wealthiest or the corporations that pay nothing—I think the president identified that last night—then you have to fix the tax code."

"The other thing that we should all agree on is the high pharmaceutical prices, so you allow the negotiations," he continued, pointing to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as an example. "Maybe we should look at them and let them basically do [that] for our Medicaid and Medicare [recipients]."

"The revenue-producing [measures] would be taxes and drugs. The spending is going to be climate," he told Politico, adding that "the social issues, we basically have to deal with those" afterward.

The senator clarified that he thinks not all of the revenue should go toward the climate crisis—in spite of scientists' warnings that wealthy nations must urgently ramp up action on that front.

"Half of that money should be dedicated to fighting inflation and reducing the deficit," he said. "The other half you can pick for a 10-year program, whatever you think is the highest priority and right now it seems to be the environment—and that's a pretty costly one—would take care of it."

While Manchin has long faced an onslaught of criticism from fellow Democrats and campaigners for blocking the House-approved budget reconciliation package—which was already a major compromise—his remarks Wednesday were seen by many as a critical opportunity.

"Senate Democrats must work with Joe Manchin immediately to strike a deal," tweeted Jamal Raad, co-founder and executive director of Evergreen Action. "We cannot let this make-or-break moment on climate fall through our grasp."

Troy N. Miller, a West Virginia organizer with Social Security Works, said he was "glad to see" that drug pricing reform "is one of Manchin's top items."

"This is an important way to tackle the kind of inflation that is literally killing Americans," Miller tweeted. "Now get it done."

Advocates of overhauling the tax code—which Republicans and former President Donald Trump made friendlier to the wealthy and corporations in 2017—also welcomed the chance for Democrats to pass a smaller package.

"The Patriotic Millionaires are thrilled to see the West Virginia senator propose a plan for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and focus on tax fairness after months of striking down progressive economic proposals," said Morris Pearl, the group's chair, in a statement.

"Every day our fellow Americans who work for a living fall further and further behind as the wealthiest individuals continue to reap the benefits of a rigged economy and tax code," he warned. "The longer we delay necessary economic reform, working Americans will continue to fall further behind."

"If Sen. Manchin wants to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations, then Democrats should take him up on that offer," Pearl added. "It may not lead to a bill with everything that they're hoping for, but repealing the disastrous 2017 GOP tax cuts and making our tax code fairer is an admirable goal no matter what the money is used for."

According to Politico:

Though he prefers everything in Congress to be bipartisan, Manchin said he has "come to that conclusion" that changing the tax code to make the rich and corporations pay their fair share can only be done with Democratic votes. As far as whether he thinks his party finally understands his parameters for joining the talks, he said that Democrats "know where I am. They just basically think that I'm going to change."

To enact Manchin's vision, Democrats would also have to bargain with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who last year steered the party toward surtaxes and corporate minimum taxes—and away from raising individual and corporate tax rates. Manchin acknowledged he and Sinema "might have a different view of this whole thing" but didn't see it as fatal to future negotiating.

Manchin—who sat with Republicans for Biden's speech—told The Hill he is not yet engaged in formal talks with the White House about a potential package. As he put it: "There's not a proposal, there's just a conversation."

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