About now I can think of in excess of 2 trillion reasons to thank God for West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). And I also have quite a high five and a few “amens” handy for Arizona U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), this moderate pair of Senate Democrats withholding their votes of approval will likely result in a proposed $3.5 trillion human and green energy infrastructure spending plan coming only in at a still too high $1.5-1.75 trillion.
In 2008, then-President Barack Obama had won a solid victory over Republican challenger Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). Republicans had lost their U.S. House Majority in 2006, this election cycle would widen that margin by 21 more seats, wiping out most all the GOP Congressional gains of the 1994 elections. In the U.S. Senate, Democrats also netted 8 news seats and a solid majority. President Obama’s primary legislative agenda item was the Affordable Care Act (ACA), extending medical health care and insurance coverage to an estimated uninsured and under-insured 33-million Americans. The act would bring the largest expansion of Medicare and Medicaid coverage since creation of Medicare as well as create the Healthcare Marketplace Exchange aimed at providing affordable coverage for small business owners and the self-employed.
The ACA was controversial enough at that time that the U.S. Senate would pass the bill by only one vote, and the U.S. House by just seven votes. Voters who felt left out and in the dark on many of the details of the complex legislation kick-started the conservative Tea Party as the debate wore on. Mid-term elections are rarely kind to the party in power in the White House, but the 2010 contests decimated both congressional Democratic majorities, returning U.S. House and Senate control to the Republican Party.
President Joe Biden had a respectable win over Donald Trump, but not a mandate in 2020. Democrats gained only one U.S. Senate seat in the General Election (Colorado), and picked up two more in historic Senate runoff contests in Georgia during January of 2021. The House Democratic Majority was reduced in the U.S. House to only five seats. Due to departures and pending special elections since, that margin is now down to only three Democratic votes in the U.S. House. The Senate remains a 50/50 split, with presiding officer and Vice President Kamala Harris, more frequently than is customary, needed to head over to the Capitol to cast tie-breaking ballots. Neither party has a decisive majority nor a mandate win from the voters.
West Virginia is known as a contrarian state, staying outside of the Confederacy during the Civil War, separated from its sibling state of Virginia in part by the Allegheny, Appalachian and Cumberland Mountain ranges. If the mountainous state had all of its land mass flattened out, it would be closer to the size of Texas. But all those mountains also hold the state’s by far largest source of wealth and industry... coal mining.
The current governor of Virginia, Jim Justice, a coal industry entrepreneur, as well as owner of the storied Greenbrier Resort, was a Republican, who ran and got elected as a Democrat in 2016. Justice was sworn in as a Democrat in 2017, and less than seven months later, at a rally with then President Donald Trump, Justice re-joined the GOP. He was later re-elected, as a Republican in 2020 to his second term. Currently in West Virginia, one senator is a Democrat (Manchin), the other Republican (Shelly Moore Capito). The current governor has served in both parties. The bi-cameral, 134 member General Assembly in West Virginia currently has both chambers under solid GOP control. Economics and energy policy remain among the top issues of concern among West Virginia voters.
A clean hand off and move away from coal fired energy generation, twin-timed with home owners being asked to replace their current heating systems, and potentially the family vehicle with EVs, all have our nation and the world seemingly pulling too quickly away from the West Virginia of today. Joe Manchin knows that, and while serving as W. Va. governor, and now as a U.S. senator, he has long been a fiscal conservative, preferring finding a way to pay for a new government initiative or program as we go, before flipping the switch. We could use a bit more backbone and desire to budget that way in Washington, noting that trillions in U.S. debt, added in only the past couple of years, will eventually need to be repaid by some generation... sometime.