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Manchin faces pressure in West Virginia to kill reconciliation deal

Sen. Joe Manchin is facing intense pressure in West Virginia to permanently kill the party-line spending package that Democrats say is key to President Biden’s domestic agenda.

Conservative groups have been on West Virginia’s airwaves in recent weeks urging Manchin to hold firm in his opposition to the legislation, which can only pass via a party-line process known as budget reconciliation. Since the Senate is split 50-50 between both parties, Manchin’s support is key to its success.

“Joe’s obviously hearing from a lot of different people,” said Greg Thomas, a West Virginia-based political strategist. “There’s been paid advertising, but then also a lot of the local groups and national groups with a local presence are reaching out to Manchin.”

The pressure campaign has taken a two-pronged approach of praising Manchin for standing up to Democrats by derailing prior versions of the spending deal while simultaneously warning the goodwill could disappear overnight. 


That strategy was on display with a recent ad, “The Tale of Two Joes,” by the 60 Plus Association, which bills itself as a right-leaning alternative to the AARP. 

“The first Joe did the right thing for West Virginia by standing up and blocking [President] Biden’s and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s liberal agenda,” the narrator states over dual images of Manchin. “The second Joe wasn’t so heroic, this Joe cracked under pressure … now the question for Joe Manchin is which Joe are you?” 

Activists and outside groups are targeting constituencies important to Manchin’s re-election chances in 2024. Topping that list are seniors, who narrowly backed the senator over a GOP rival in 2018.

One recent ad, by the conservative group American Commitment, slams Manchin for being open to including within reconciliation a proposal allowing Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs. 

“Now [Manchin] and AARP support government price-setting schemes that will give liberal politicians billions in funds meant for Medicare to spend on unrelated government programs or pad big insurers’ profits,” the ad states. “If AARP and Sen. Manchin believe West Virginia’s seniors aren’t watching, think again.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., with other Democratic leaders, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington June 8, 2022. 

Such ads have drawn the attention of national Democratic groups, which have rushed to respond with their own spots calling on Manchin to stay true to his party. 

The deluge of ads has been made possible by West Virginia’s relatively inexpensive media markets. Apart from the eastern panhandle, which is included in the Washington media market, groups can book radio and television time in the state for a few thousand dollars. One recent ad, which went up in June and ran for a week, only cost $55,000. 


Republicans say that one of the reasons Manchin likely opted to oppose the original reconciliation bill, known as Build Back Better, was because conservative groups made it toxic among voters. 

“The ads helped expose all the crazy stuff Democrats were trying to cram through,” said West Virginia GOP Chairman Mark Harris. “Manchin himself said he couldn’t support the bill because he couldn’t go home and sell it to voters. Well, he couldn’t sell it because everyone had seen ads and knew what was really in it.” 

A pharmacist selects drugs inside her pharmacy in Bordeaux

The political pressure on Manchin has only intensified as inflation continues to rise unabated, hitting 9.1% this month. And the political environment continues to worsen for Democrats. 

Last year, Manchin refused to sign on to the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill over fears it would exacerbate inflation. The decision saw the senator’s popularity spike among West Virginia Republicans, with a recent poll showing 69% of the state’s GOP voters approving of his job performance. 

Despite the polls, Manchin returend to reconciliation negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., earlier this year. The duo has made some progress by agreeing to the Medicare prescription drug proposal. 

Hopes for a quick deal were cut short, however, this week. Manchin informed Schumer and other members of the Democratic leadership that he could not support including tax hikes and climate change subsidies within the package until the nation’s economic picture became clearer. 

“I said, ‘Can we just wait until the inflation figures come out [for] July, until we know if the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates?’” Manchin told West Virginia MetroNews. “‘Then make the decision on what we can do and how much we can do.'”

Democratic leaders took the request for a delay as an admission the tax and climate provisions were dead. Many view the end of July as their deadline to pass a bill before Congress leaves for a month-long recess and returns in September when a number of government spending deadlines loom. 

President Biden, center, walks with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at the Capitol in Washington July 14th, 2021.

Manchin denies the tax hikes and climate change provisions are dead, saying negotiations on both were “moving in a very productive way.” 

Yet, few think the provisions will come back if Manchin’s ultimatum is serious. Economists say that inflation is unlikely to decrease significantly in the next month, although they admit gasoline and some commodity prices are trending downward. 

Regardless, political groups and local activists in West Virginia plan to continue pressuring Manchin into opposing reconciliation. They say that the political reality is that West Virginia is a conservative state where voters are unlikely to support tax hikes or policies that undercut energy independence. 

“Manchin is probably the only Democrat in the country who has voiced concerns about inflation because he’s seeing how it’s negatively impacting people in West Virginia,” said West Virginia Treasurer Riley Moore, a Republican. “Hopefully, he’ll vote the way his constituents want. If not, they’ll hold him accountable.” 

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