Joe Manchin in the Driver’s Seat on Biden Agenda Before Midterms

Democrats begin last-ditch efforts to patch together energy, prescription drug, and tax elements that might gain Senator Joe Manchin’s crucial support with looming midterms.

Sen. Manchin, D., W.Va., recently met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D., N.Y., to discuss the possibility of a package focused on reducing the budget deficit and raising taxes.

Manchin also gathered a group of lawmakers from both parties to debate ways to increase energy production, a key priority for Manchin.

Democrats view the upcoming weeks as a crucial window to try to rescue their abandoned ambitions in the split 50-50 Senate. The party relies on Manchin’s vote to achieve goals on a policy primarily opposed by Republicans.

Last year, Manchin rejected a package passed by the House for roughly $2 trillion in spending on climate, childcare programs, healthcare, and a doomed Build Back Better plan since the Dems have used kid gloves with their policy goals with hopes of ultimately settling on a compromise the West Virginia Dem.

Many Democrats are eager to kick-start talks with the midterm elections months away and before politics of the campaign season fully emerge and before the Democrats possibly lose control of the House and Senate.

According to Senator Chris Van Hollen, D., Md., “I think it’s a make-or-break moment for the elements of Build Back Better that are still on the table. The clock is ticking. This is a perishable moment.”

Manchin has said previously that he would support legislation focused on producing more energy in the U.S., raising taxes, cutting the deficit, and reducing the cost of prescription drugs.

The senator has rejected numerous proposals to enlarge the country’s social safety net, offering a more generous child tax credit and creating a national paid leave program.

Democrats appear to have accepted that most parts of the bill will not pass Congress while prioritizing fighting climate change as part of the reworked effort. Manchin has sought to incorporate fossil-fuel production as part of the bill in recent weeks.

According to aides and lawmakers, the recent meeting of Democrats and Republicans about the U.S. energy policy was a preliminary, broad discussion.

“I’m working with a group trying to find a bipartisan way that we can move forward on energy, and we’ll just have to see where we get,” said Manchin.

Parties differ on energy policy

Forging an agreement on energy policy between the GOP and Dems will be challenging. To win broad support, a compromise must be developed that combines the Democrats’ desire for clean energy sources, including solar power and wind, with the Republicans’ aim of increasing the production of fossil fuels.

Senator Kevin Cramer, R., N.D., attended the meeting and said he would oppose any plans that resemble Democrats’ previous attempts at reducing carbon emissions. “That leaves maybe a fairly narrow band depending on what price people are willing to pay,” said Cramer.

Manchin’s overtures to Republicans are puzzling to some Democrats, with many skeptical that the talks would amount to any consensus they could support.

“I mean, it’s way too early to see what they’re going to include and what’s going to be involved; I’m going to vote for the strongest possible climate provisions. I’m skeptical that a bipartisan solution is going to yield the results when it hasn’t so far,” said Senator Tina Smith, D., Minn.

According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the administration would not prejudge Senator Manchin’s pursuit of a bipartisan energy plan. Psaki said that the White House would “continue to engage with a broad range of Democrats, including, of course, Sen. Manchin, about how to get the president’s agenda done.”

After meeting with Senator Schumer, Manchin said they discussed ways to combat inflation, which is now at the highest level in 40 years, by reducing the deficit and raising taxes. Democrats believe that the deficit can be reduced by raising taxes, which could ease inflation by removing money from the economy.

Democrats have been preoccupied with attempts to reduce inflation, which has surged over the past year, dragging down Dems’ poll numbers.

Manchin said his inflation concerns drove him to oppose the House-passed version of Biden’s Build Back Better last year, while Democrats have scrambled to highlight ways to focus on the issue.

Manchin said Democrats should focus on agreeing to tax increases along party lines through reconciliation. Through reconciliation, lawmakers can skirt the 60-vote threshold for Senate filibuster.

Meanwhile, Republicans have vehemently opposed Democrats’ plans to raise taxes, changing or reversing elements of the 2017 tax law Republicans passed along party lines while implementing critical pieces of the Biden administration’s priority of the global minimum corporate tax agreement.

“We talked about inflation, [Mr. Schumer] wants to do something, and basically whatever’s done with the tax code, using that towards fighting inflation,” said Manchin.

Schumer has said the best tool Democrats have to fight inflation is raising taxes.

“If you want to get rid of inflation, the only way to do it is to undo a lot of the Trump tax cuts and raise rates. No Republican is ever going to do that, so the only way to get rid of inflation is through reconciliation,” said Schumer.