Say it ain’t so, Joe Manchin

He used to be a man of his word, a moderating force in his party

Sen. Joe Manchin needs to answer some questions now that he’s bought into his party’s empty promises, Winston writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Joe Manchin needs to answer some questions now that he’s bought into his party’s empty promises, Winston writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 3, 2022 at 6:00am

In the fall of 1920, a grand jury indicted eight Chicago White Sox players for their role in throwing the 1919 World Series, among them the baseball legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. In the aftermath, a disappointed reporter for the Chicago Daily News, Charley Owens, wrote a bittersweet tribute to Jackson headlined “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” The rest, as they say, is history.

The Joe Jackson story was a tale of disillusionment and denial as Jackson spent the rest of his life denying his role in the fixing scandal. But the damage was done, and he is remembered today not for what was a remarkable sports career but for what was at the time the biggest scandal in baseball.

Joe Manchin isn’t Joe Jackson. I’ve always seen him as a man of his word, a moderating force in his party and in an increasingly divided Congress. But his unexpected decision to totally reverse course and enthusiastically support Chuck Schumer’s Orwellian "Inflation Reduction Act," sadly, does bring back to mind that old headline, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

Hard as it is to understand, Manchin does seem to have had an unexpected change of heart when it comes to Democrats’ penchant for massive spending proposals that he once rejected as inflationary. Watching the West Virginia senator on the Sunday news shows trying to rationalize his support for the new legislation, which for all practical purposes is nothing but "Build Back Better" lite, made for a head-scratching morning of political theater.

Manchin tried to paint the bill as a nonpartisan attempt to reduce inflation through “investments,” not tax increases, with a focus on increasing domestic energy production. But before the ink was dry, Penn Wharton released its Budget Model analysis, which concluded “the impact on inflation is statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

When it comes to the touchy subject of increasing taxes in a recession, Manchin on ABC’s “This Week” claimed, “We made sure that we did not raise taxes. We closed loopholes.”

But an analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan congressional committee that assists “members of the majority and minority parties in both houses of Congress on tax legislation,” doesn’t agree.

According to the JCT, the Inflation Reduction Act would actually raise taxes on more than just corporations — $16.7 billion on taxpayers earning less than $200,000 in 2023 and another $14.1 billion from taxpayers making between $200,000 and $500,000, to be exact. In fact, the committee’s data shows all but one of the income brackets of people earning less than $200,000 would see increased taxes as well.

When asked by Fox News Digital about the committee’s findings, Manchin said, “We have to agree to disagree, a difference of opinion.” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was even more dismissive. When asked about the findings, she responded flatly, “That is incorrect,” and argued that the JCT analysis is “incomplete” because it doesn’t consider future prescription drug savings or potential energy cost savings, ignoring the fact that food and energy costs are devastating family budgets today.

Running the risk of dating myself, this sounds vaguely like Popeye’s cartoon sidekick Wimpy, whose signature line has become a perfect commentary on government today: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

Maybe Manchin truly believes that the bill’s 15 percent minimum business tax won’t curb investment and innovation, as the National Association of Manufacturers has said in opposing the legislation. The JCT also points out that manufacturers would pay 49.7 percent of this new tax.

But Manchin told “Meet the Press” that the problem for business isn’t a lack of money, it’s a lack of confidence in government’s ability to “unleash” manufacturing through permitting reform.

Manchin appears to have traded his moderate views on the impact of federal overspending on inflation for vague promises from Schumer, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi to reduce regulation and permitting snafus that have slowed infrastructure projects and other business initiatives, particularly fossil fuel energy development.

He told “Face the Nation” that people are struggling with inflation in large part because of energy costs, and then he went on to claim, “This [legislation] is going to take care of that.” Manchin seems to be operating under the naive assumption that the verbal assurances he’s gotten from his leadership to reinvigorate fossil fuel production through regulatory reforms are based in reality. Democratic progressives may have something to say about that down the road.

Manchin got asked a lot of the same questions over the weekend, but before Schumer rushes this risky bill forward, maybe they ought to answer a few more. “With 9.1 percent inflation hitting every American household, exactly how is spending $369 billion for green energy and climate initiatives over the next 10 years going to help people pay for a gallon of milk or a full gas tank tomorrow?”

Or, “In six months, how much will this ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ actually reduce inflation in real terms with real numbers?”

Or how about, “Who do you think will end up paying the 15 percent minimum tax on corporations — businesses or consumers hit with even higher prices?”

And yet Schumer and Manchin seem hell-bent on raising taxes in a recession, directly contradicting their earlier views. In 2008, Schumer said, “If we’re in a recession and we’re in a difficult economic time, I don’t think Sen. Obama or anyone else is going to raise any taxes. You don’t want to take money out of the economy when the economy is shrinking.”

Manchin himself said in 2010, “I don’t think during a time of recession you mess with any of the taxes or increase any taxes.”

Over the past two years, according to Congressional Budget Office projections, federal revenues in 2022 will increase by 41.4 percent from 2020, and yet Manchin and Schumer’s prescription for what ails the economy is more taxes and more spending. If anyone needed evidence that the Inflation Reduction Act is a bad idea, look no further than the impact of last year’s American Rescue Plan on inflation.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as serving as an election analyst for CBS News.