In Congress, There’s Always Going to be a Joe Manchin.
It’s been nearly three months with Joe Biden as President, and Americans are finally beginning to receive the desperately needed survival checks in the Covid relief package that had been promised “immediately”. Of course, there were a number of reasons why the relief and the bill itself has taken so long to pass, but none of it has to do with Republicans. Considering the fact that one of the first moves that Democrats made when they took control of the Senate was to vote to pass the bill through reconciliation meaning they would not need a single Republican vote, it’s been interesting to consider the various conservative, corporate friendly Democratic voices behind the scenes who were flexing their political muscle to get their will. Namely, West Virginia’s own Joe Manchin.
Frankly, it’s been incredibly easy to make Joe Manchin out as the scapegoat for the reason why it’s going to be next to impossible for progressives to get their policy goals implemented. Whether it be the $15 minimum wage, enhanced unemployment benefits, or even doing the bare minimum to ensure Democrats can be effective in congress like abolishing the filibuster, Manchin has willingly volunteered himself to be the face of barriers to progress. Especially with the killing of the minimum wage so fresh in our minds, it’s easy to resent Joe Manchin and everything he has positioned himself to be within the Senate.
The thing is, there’s always going to be a Joe Manchin.
If it hadn’t been Joe Manchin to step up (probably because he doesn’t have to worry about re-election for another three years) and voluntarily make himself the barrier to progress, it would have been someone else and it will be when he is gone. Kirsten Sinema, of course, comes to mind. The senate is functionally designed to be the most anti-democratic body in our government. Setting aside the disproportionate representation given to states with such a low population of voters, even the six year term makes these representatives far less responsive to the will of the people than they should be. But if that’s going to be the case for the foreseeable future, the question becomes what is the left going to do about it?
If the left wants to achieve anything in congress, they’re going to have to accept that the only way to do so is to use Manchin’s tactics against him.
There was absolutely nothing stopping progressives in congress from doing exactly what Joe Manchin is doing, and vowing to block that Covid relief bill if it didn’t have the $15 minimum wage. If they had done so, Manchin, Biden, and Schumer would have had no choice but to bring them to the negotiating table. Manchin was not going to allow must pass legislation to die, and the left could have gotten concessions if they had flexed their muscle in the same way Manchin had.
That said, their voices at the table would have been considerably more powerful if there was a significant labor movement behind them. Unless their is union and an organized effort among the masses, there is nothing pushing lawmakers to follow through with their promises. Labor generates what matters most to our lawmakers and the donor class: capital. If workers in not only Manchin’s home state of West Virginia but all across the state were organized and more effectively able to make demands, it seems irrefutable that the outcome of the $15 minimum wage in West Virginia would have been different.
There’s always going to be someone like Manchin in power. That’s just a given. But if progressives in congress become willing to flex their muscle, and have organized labor behind them, Manchin’s voice would ultimately become insignificant.