How Joe Manchin's policy positions impact West Virginians

The reconciliation bill, the centerpiece of Biden's Build Back Better agenda, remains in limbo. The primary hurdle is the opposition to the bill, as originally conceived, by two Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). 

While Sinema has kept her basis for opposition close to the vest, Manchin has made his views known through the press. Here are three core positions held by Manchin, according to reports:

1. Manchin opposes the Clean Energy Standard, which is widely seen as the most consequential provision in the bill to address climate change. 

2. Manchin wants to limit eligibility for the expanded Child Tax Credit to families making $60,000 or less and add a work requirement.

3. Manchin is "less interested" in a provision guaranteeing all Americans 12 weeks of paid family leave.

The coverage of Manchin's positions has largely focused on political strategy. Could a package that is pared back in this way pass the House, or would progressives reject these changes? If not, could Manchin bend? How will this debate — and the success or failure of any package — impact the 2022 midterm elections?

These are intriguing questions, but they skip over the core issue. Joe Manchin is the Senator representing the people of West Virginia. Manchin’s job is to look after their best interests. The main question should be: How would the policy changes he's advocating impact his constituents? 

Manchin's policy positions make some sense if you consider Manchin's own financial interests, the interests of his donors, or Manchin's political imperative to position himself as an "independent" voice. But the changes that Manchin is insisting on would have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of West Virginians. 

How Manchin's opposition to the Clean Energy Standard would impact West Virginians  

Last week, Manchin reportedly told the White House he “strongly opposes” the Clean Energy Standard. The $150 billion program is designed to transition the United States from coal and gas-powered plants to wind, solar, and nuclear energy. Manchin argues that energy companies are already transitioning to clean energy and the program would pay “private companies to do things they’re already doing.” Manchin has previously indicated that he wants to "protect and extend the use of coal and natural gas."

Manchin is the top recipient of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry in this campaign cycle by a wide margin. He also maintains lucrative ownership stakes in two coal companies that he founded, Enersystems and Farmington Resources, that are now run by his son, Joe Manchin IV. Since joining the Senate in 2010, Manchin’s stock in the companies has produced “more than $4.5 million” in dividends. 

A spokeswoman for Manchin wrote that Manchin “continues to support efforts to combat climate change while protecting American energy independence and ensuring our energy reliability” in an email to the New York Times. But the clean electricity program is “the most important climate policy in the package,” according to Leah Stokes, a professor and climate policy expert. It is an essential step for the United States to reach its goals under the Paris Agreement and for the world to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

But opposing the provision is not only a setback for the global effort to combat climate change. It's also bad for West Virginians. 

A report published by the Harvard School of Public Health found that passing a Clean Energy Standard would, by 2050, avoid 14 premature deaths per 100,000 people in West Virginia — more than “any other state except Kentucky.” 

West Virginia is also at risk to disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change. According to a New York Times report, data released last week shows that “no state in the contiguous United States is more exposed to flood damage than West Virginia.” The state has already begun to see the effects of climate change with multiple devastating floods in the past decade. 

The coal industry is rapidly declining in West Virginia. But a study by West Virginia University researchers found that reaching the reconciliation package’s carbon emissions reduction goals would add "3,508 full-time jobs" in West Virginia and increase “total earnings for state residents by $172 million through 2040." It would also "bring $20.9 billion of investments in power plants.” 

How Manchin's proposed changes to the expanded Child Tax Credit would impact West Virginians

In March 2021, as part of the American Rescue Plan, there was a significant expansion of the Child Tax Credit. First, the amount of the credit was increased from a maximum of $2,000 per child to $3,000 for children 6 to 17 and $3,600 for children under 6. Second, it made "the full benefit available to children in families with the lowest incomes by removing the earnings requirement and making the benefit fully refundable." Prior to this change, "one in three children did not receive the full credit because their families did not earn enough to qualify for the benefits." Finally, instead of providing the benefit when a family filed taxes, families could "receive monthly installments up to $250 for each older child and up to $300 for each younger child."

These changes had a tremendous impact on the lives of American children. After the first monthly payment in July 2021, the child poverty rate fell from 15.8% to 11.9%. That represents "a decline of 3 million children living in poverty." Future reductions could be even more significant. 

This benefit, however, is scheduled to expire next year. So the reconciliation bill would extend the expanded Child Tax Credit until 2025.

Manchin, however, opposes this plan. He wants eligibility for the expanded credit capped at a total family income of $60,000. (Previously, couples that earned up to $150,000 were eligible for the full credit.) Manchin also wants a "firm work requirement" attached to eligibility. This would deny the benefit to children in families that need the most support — those without any income.

How would Manchin's proposal impact West Virginians? According to data from the Niskanen Center first reported by the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, Manchin's proposal would strip eligibility for the credit from 190,000 children in West Virginia. Families in West Virginia would also "lose more than a quarter billion dollars in annual purchasing power."

Manchin's proposal would also have the opposite effect that he intends. If the expanded Child Tax Credit is only available to families with low incomes, it creates "incentives not to strive for a higher income." Conversely, if you make the program more universal, you avoid creating a dependency trap. 

How Manchin’s opposition to paid family leave would impact West Virginians 

In September, Popular Information reported that out of the 38 developed countries, generally defined as the members of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States is the only country that does not offer paid maternity leave at the national level. In 2018, the average paid maternity leave in other OECD countries was 51 weeks.

Paid family leave comes with many benefits, including advancing childhood health and development, lower rates of infant and child mortality, lower high school dropout rates, and higher wages at age 30. 

The proposed reconciliation bill includes paid leave, allowing all workers “12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.” Currently, only 19% of Americans have access to paid family leave through their employer. 

While Manchin has expressed being open to subsidizing daycare and universal preschool, he is “less interested” in the paid family leave proposal. Manchin is using the excuse that “his price cap remains at $1.5 trillion,” and that he does not believe all three issues are urgent enough to be included at this time.

Paid family leave would greatly benefit many of Manchin’s constituents. Currently, even unpaid leave is “inaccessible for 59 percent of working people” in West Virginia.

According to a report by the Women Effect Action Fund and TIME’S UP Now, implementing paid leave policies would “increase West Virginians’ income by an estimated $198.5 million a year and increase the number of workers taking paid leave annually by nearly 88,050.”