Critics Slam Manchin for Invoking 'Brutal Fiscal Reality' to Defend Tanking of Biden Agenda

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Just ahead of Sen. Joe Manchin's Thursday declaration that $1.5 trillion is his topline number for the reconciliation bill, the corporate Democrat referred to the United States' so-called "brutal fiscal reality" on Wednesday to defend his opposition to the Democratic Party's 10-year, $3.5 trillion package—a justification progressives criticized as baseless and a threat to Americans' future well-being.

"While I am hopeful that common ground can be found that would result in another historic investment in our nation, I cannot—and will not—support trillions in spending or an all or nothing approach that ignores the brutal fiscal reality our nation faces," Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Wednesday night in a statement, adding that he wants to "pass on a better America to the next generation."

"There is no brutal fiscal reality the nation faces," MSNBC's Chris Hayes responded in an all-caps tweet. "It is entirely made up!"

Researcher and writer David Atkins echoed Hayes.

"Needless to say, our country does not face a 'brutal fiscal reality,'" tweeted Atkins. "Our debt-to-GDP ratio is well within reasonable limits, it is fiscally prudent to make good investments in the nation's future, and any potential inflation can be handled by taxing [the] obscenely wealthy."

Warren Gunnels, staff director for Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), juxtaposed Manchin's deficit fear-mongering with his refusal to address the growing needs of the working class, pointing to worsening poverty in West Virginia and an intensifying global climate crisis.

"No reconciliation, no deal," Gunnels stressed, reiterating the Congressional Progressive Caucus' well-publicized strategy for securing President Joe Biden's entire domestic policy agenda.

Manchin's statement came as the House prepared for a Thursday vote on the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a widely criticized, fossil fuel-friendly bill—of which Manchin was a key architect—that was passed by the Senate in August and would authorize $550 billion in new spending to upgrade the nation's roads, bridges, and ports.

Dozens of progressive lawmakers in the House have vowed to block the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill until Congress passes the popular Build Back Better Act—a broader social infrastructure package that includes climate action and anti-poverty measures—through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process.

While progressives are sticking to the deal that Democratic Party leaders outlined months ago to keep both pieces of legislation linked and advance them together, Manchin and fellow right-wing congressional Democrats, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and a handful of House lawmakers led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), are refusing to drop their opposition to the more ambitious bill after receiving thousands of dollars in campaign donations from corporations actively lobbying against it.

Other critics of Manchin have drawn attention to the fact that the conservative lawmaker has routinely voted for annual Pentagon budgets approaching or surpassing $700 billion, which translates to roughly $7 trillion over the course of 10 years. That's twice as much spending on militarization as what the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill would invest over a decade in healthcare, child care, housing, and renewable energy.

When accounting for projected revenue raised through the reconciliation bill's proposed tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the net cost of the Build Back Better Act drops to $1 trillion to $1.75 trillion over a decade, or a per-year average of just $100 billion to $175 billion, amounting to roughly 0.3% to 0.6% of GDP.

In a series of tweets, economist Gabriel Zucman highlighted "the brutal fiscal reality," which is that "the cost of the bill is in fact quite small and wealth at the top quite big."

According to Zucman, an annual wealth tax of 8% on the nation's nine centi-billionaires would generate approximately $100 billion—offsetting the full cost of the expanded child tax credit, the extension of which Manchin and other corporate Democrats are obstructing.

Moreover, Zucman noted, "an annual 0.3% wealth tax on the top 10%—similar to the one that exists in Switzerland—would fund the entire $3.5 trillion bill."

Manchin on Wednesday night claimed that "the amount we spend now must be balanced with what we need and can afford—not designed to reengineer the social and economic fabric of this nation or vengefully tax for the sake of wishful spending."

That comment came just hours after the conservative lawmaker—already Congress' top recipient of cash from the oil, gas, and coal industry this election cycle—refused to answer questions about how he profits from a family business that sells coal to power plants in his home state of West Virginia.

A recent survey (pdf) commissioned by Americans for Tax Fairness showed that when voters in West Virginia were made aware of the reconciliation bill's proposals to raise taxes on corporations and the rich while closing loopholes that have exacerbated wealth inequality—reforms that Manchin dismissed as "vengeful"—support for the legislation increased from 48% to 70%.

According to a study (pdf) released last week by the Green New Deal Network, Manchin's obstruction of the Build Back Better Act could cost his constituents $16.6 billion in public funding and 31,583 jobs over the next 10 years.

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