Reviews | Joe Manchin’s trail of destruction is about to get worse
Second, as time is running out to pass big chunks of President Biden’s climate change agenda, new analysis demonstrates that such a failure could have catastrophic long-term effects.
What do these have in common? They are both in part the result of Manchin’s refusal to support even a revived and scaled-down version of Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which would have worked on both fronts.
Manchin has made noises about wanting to see elements of BBB again. But it’s unclear how serious he is: After killing BBB last year, he could chain his fellow Democrats with no intention of ever supporting anything concrete.
Now, Politico is reporting that fears are growing among Democrats about the ACA’s expanded grants expiring. They were originally adopted in the 2021 US bailout, to expand access to health care in a pandemic emergency, and are due to expire in January.
That could lead to premium increases of hundreds or even thousands of dollars for 14 million or more people, according to an analysis by liberal advocacy group Families USA. This could have its most dramatic impact on millions of low-income families.
The defunct BBB would have extended those expanded grants through 2025. Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) are currently negotiating about reviving elements of the BBB, moving to a simple majority with only Democrats . Some of them are hoping that ACA’s extended grants will be part of that mix.
But there is no reason to be optimistic. As Politico reports, even though Manchin has supported these ACA grants in the past, he is at best “uncommitted” to including them in a revived proposal.
Jonathan Cohn, who wrote an excellent history of the ACA and reported on this disaster for HuffPost, notes that much is at stake. The expansion of ACA grants has been key to achieving the policy’s core mission of moving the country toward universal and affordable health care, and letting them expire will be a big step backwards.
“That has always been the unfinished business of the ACA,” Cohn told me. “Millions of people will feel the effects.”
You could argue the Democrats should have locked in longer-term grants with the ARP covid bailout when they had the chance. But at the start of 2021, amid the covid rampage, the country was sliding towards disaster on many fronts. Addressing them all required tough choices.
“The point of the ARP was that we were in a once-in-a-lifetime crisis,” says Cohn, which required “a bunch of temporary measures.” But the increased grants solved a humanitarian problem that will survive the pandemic, and letting them expire will hurt millions.
Now on to climate change: Climate writer David Wallace-Wells has a bracing new projection of the damage that congressional inaction will inflict. The picture is indeed ugly.
BBB’s proposal would have included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax incentives encouraging the transition to clean energy. Manchin has signaled his openness to relaunching an ambitious sequel to these tax credits, but again, we have no idea how serious he is.
If nothing happens, Wallace-Wells notes, the consequences could be disastrous. Drawing on studies, he concludes that inaction could mean another 5 billion tonnes of carbon emissions are added to the atmosphere and we fall dramatically falling short of Biden’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
The final hammer blow is that Republicans are almost certain to win the House and possibly the Senate this fall. That would mean there is likely to be no action for years to come, which could mean a few lost years or even a lost decade in the fight against global warming, Wallace-Wells argues. Worse still, this challenge becomes exponentially harder to solve the longer it goes unanswered:
Along with the climate, every year of delay eats away at our carbon budget, raises global temperatures and makes the future path to any hoped-for goal even more dizzying.
And a GOP takeover of the House and/or Senate means no progress toward universal health care for years, and probably a good chunk of backsliding.
Manchin’s defenders will insist that as a senator representing conservative voters, he is not obligated to vote with the party. If he opposes those ACA grants and those climate provisions, then damn it, he should vote against it. But what makes this so confusing is that in principle he supported both expanding ACA grants and this kind of climate policy.
At least if Manchin is going to withhold his support at this absolutely critical moment, he should explain in some meaningful way why he’s perfectly fine with the status quo — or far, far worse — persisting on both fronts, far into the bleak future. and indefinite.