Technically, these two are listed as Democrats, but if they were routine supporters of Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer, the Democrats would be rolling along with a transformative legislative package. Instead, we go week to week, hearing in passing how Joe Manchin doesn't want to do this or that. One week he didn't want to end the filibuster. Another week he came out against D.C. statehood. Maybe it's time to pay his ransom and get on with governing. (Photo above: Senator Joe Manchin.)
Pay the ransom.
That's the remedy if there actually is a ransom to be paid. A while back, Manchin talked about subsidizing a plan to rebuild West Virginia industry. It would be a program that would pay to create the new plants and infrastructure so that W. VA could recover from its decades-long slide. We've been whining about California not growing fast enough to hold onto all its congressional seats, but West Virginia actually lost population in the latest census. To be specific, their population went down by 65,000, to end up just under 1.8 million people.
That's right -- 1.8 million people send two U.S. senators to Washington, and because of one of them, we can't get important legislation passed.
So how about doing the kind of deal that the senate used to be known for? It was called logrolling or pork barrel or just plain dealing, but it sometimes got things done. Maybe it's time to give it a try.
And it probably wouldn't even cost that much. Ten or twenty billion dollars is just the noise figure in Biden's latest proposals. The senate could tack on enough to create a solar industry in West Virginia that would lead to twenty thousand production level jobs. Notice that production level jobs (the kind that pay north of twenty-five dollars an hour) generate five or ten times that number in the surrounding supportive businesses such as supermarkets, realtors, and dentists.
We could offer this carrot to the senator and his state, but there must also be a stick. Right now, Manchin is standing between the Democrats and several important moves, among them the voting rights bill, reform of the Supreme Court, and the D.C. Statehood bill. None of these is directly toxic to the people of West Virginia, but Manchin has stood in the way. It's time to let him know that he can either be a Democrat and gain a large bounty for his state, or he can stay right where he is and watch West Virginia continue to decline for the rest of his term in office.
Could this deal get done? There are a couple of questions -- they come down to the fiscal and the technological, and finally to the political question.
The first question is How Much? What level of directed federal spending would it take both to buy off Manchin and simultaneously to make for real change in the lives of his constituents? Maybe the question could be rephrased: What kind of federal spending would it take to replace completely the current number of coal mining jobs in West Virginia, which as of 2019 was 13,988. How about double that number of jobs as a decent target?
Are only 13,988 coal mining jobs what is standing between the American people and a better future? (And by the way, the total number of coal mining jobs nationally was just 81,491 in the same year.). Anyway, let's imagine that it would be possible to bring back the days of deal making in the U.S. Senate, the way that powerful committee chairs did 40 years ago. What would it take?
Not long ago, Joe Manchin introduced a couple of bills to clean up the sites of old coal mines and to stimulate the economy in his (and a few other) states. He was joined by senators from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, who likewise suffer decaying coal mining industries. The whole cost of both bills is large by traditional standards but small by comparison with Biden's 2021 offerings.
We Californians might consider that what I am suggesting isn't a threat to democracy or an insult to our western ways. Rather, we should consider how much we have benefitted from federal dollars both in the current and previous eras. Just in Southern California alone, the estimate of jobs due to aerospace was 268,000 as of the last non-pandemic year. We have benefited mightily from the technological revolution that goes back to 1910 and the Dominguez Air Meet, continued through a couple of world wars, and extends into the space programs. What's a few billion to West Virginia to help people who really could use a hand?
But there needs to be a price for this favor, not because it is right or moral but because at this moment it is necessary. Manchin is being the bad guy (whether or not he sees it that way) and it's the way of national politics to extract the necessary favors from him as the price of giving him what he wants.
In this case, the price is that Manchin join the Democratic Party in the Senate in whole, not just in part. By doing so, he would get five or ten times what he originally asked for. It won't hurt the country or lead to inflation or make California into a second class state. It might actually help the United States to get to net-zero-carbon-dioxide sooner by helping to build part of the new low-carbon economy in the place where the coal economy used to be.
Admittedly Kyrsten Sinema is another issue, but getting to Manchin would be a start.
Another version of How Many Dead is an Acceptable Number?
it's no secret that the conservative wing has been fairly disdainful of the idea that Covid-19 is so serious that we had to do lockdowns and demand that people wear face masks. It became something of a ritual for Trump supporters to simultaneously wear red caps and not wear masks. Perhaps we could put up with these rituals if only these people would get vaccinated. Meanwhile, a town in Washington had a big party and now ten percent of the population have shown positive for Covid-19, with some terribly ill and so far at least one dead.
This is another version of the question I keep asking: How many dead are too many, to the extent that you would agree that we need to do something different? Talk radio hosts have made no secret of their contempt for the scientists who asked people to wear masks (Dr. Fauci in particular) and to avoid tight public gatherings. They continue to talk about the Covid-19 being a relatively mild illness for most people, and even a symptom-free infection for many. These points are of course true, but we might also point out that they are a bit irrelevant. The issue is that even for middle-aged people, you don't really know whether you are going to be the one to get a serious case which will leave long-term lingering problems or even lead to death. That, by the way, also goes for children. The far-right has been playing with this game of Russian Roulette since fairly early in the pandemic. With luck, we may get past the worst part through vaccination and through a large number of people having had the illness, but lives could have been saved had we been a little better at flattening the curve during the second phase.
Sure, there would have been a lot of cases no matter what we did, but the angry denial of reality that we have seen from the right wing led to a lot of premature deaths.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)