In 2021, I have been lucky to have a few of my opinion pieces on the federal Build Back Better legislative package appear on the Gazette-Mail editorial page. Because I do not believe the debate about Build Back Better is over, I feel compelled to write yet another op-ed. To find the magic words or the right story that will illustrate why Build Back Better is so important for West Virginia families — lower health insurance premiums, lower prescription drug costs, help with the cost of childcare and home health care workers for our elders, and more.
For those of us who have followed the debate and engaged in advocacy to get Build Back Better passed, it has been an exhausting year. Whenever we seemed to be at the cusp of completing negotiations, finding the compromise sweet spot, and moving the package forward, the finish line was pushed farther away. And Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been the key Senator moving that finish line beyond our grasp.
Predictably, this holiday season Manchin has been compared to Scrooge and to the Grinch — including in the Gazette-Mail. I gotta admit I totally enjoyed Bil Lepp’s “How the Manch Stole Build Back Better.”
But while I may feel these Christmas comparisons are deserved – and they certainly have been therapeutic treatment for the severe case of disappointment that I and others feel — it is time to move on. Leadership in the Senate has assured us that Manchin will have to vote on some version of Build Back Better in 2022. It is Joe who needs to speak clearly.
We have heard Manchin say he supports the Build Back Better’s higher premium subsidies that help so many West Virginians afford decent health insurance. Manchin has consistently supported prescription drug price control provisions introduced in the Senate and now in Build Back Better. Manchin says he supports the new federal funds to support our state’s home health care workers so that folks are not forced into nursing homes by a worker shortage. So those provisions in Build Back Better are not a problem, right?
Don’t force us to continue the guesswork. It is time for some clear answers from the Senator.
Manchin has stated that his colleagues need to “pick” the programs that they want the most and make them permanent. Ok — so which programs does Manchin pick? Which needs does he want to leave unmet?
How much is Manchin willing to spend to help West Virginia families? We know that he applauded the Senate passage of a one-year $768 billion defense spending bill.
Manchin has said he wants to see some of the 2017 tax changes rolled back so that billionaires and wealthy corporations pay a fairer share of taxes. What tax reforms will Manchin support so that our federal government can help struggling families?
What specific provisions in Build Back Better does Manchin oppose no matter what? Name them. Specifically, which climate measures give him heartburn?
Why does Manchin keep using inflation as an excuse to oppose Build Back Better? Leading economists have made it clear that Build Back Better will not cause more inflation. But it will help families struggling to make ends meet as prices rise due to international economic conditions driven by COVID.
Manchin has called for bipartisanship to reestablish itself in politics. Amen to that, but please tell us which 10 Republicans might stand with him on any Build Back Better provision or other program that President Biden supports?
Manchin said that he must explain his votes to the people back home in West Virginia.
Therefore, I call on Manchin to conduct a series of public forums early in January — widely advertised ahead of time and open to all — to do just that. Manchin needs to explain himself.
At these forums, Manchin should skip the rhetoric. Instead, he should specifically, concretely and clearly answer the above questions. He should hold those forums when working folks can attend — at different times of the day and on different days of the week. Hold them in-person and on-line. Make them a true dialogue with folks — not just a speech.
We deserve that much from Manchin.