After months of negotiations, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) decided to kill the Build Back Better agenda. He made the announcement on Fox News Sunday, just days before an already-fraught holiday as we’re seeing COVID surges, essential workers still being paid wages of those considered expendable, and storms and extreme weather wreaking havoc on lives and livelihoods. When voicing his dissent for the Build Back Better agenda, despite making promises that he was negotiating in good faith since the summer, Manchin had the nerve to say: “I tried everything humanly possible.”
For many months now, we in the Poor People’s Campaign have been pointing out the immoral nature of Manchin’s positions and their adverse effects on everyone, especially the 140 million poor and low-income Americans and more than 700,000 poor and low-income West Virginians. When we met with Manchin in February, he told low-wage workers from his own state to their faces that he was not in favor of a $15/hour minimum wage (even though a living wage for workers in West Virginia would be $30 for a family of four). He claimed he had his own plan to raise wages to $11/hour but — as with voting rights, the Build Back Better plan, and more — his deeds do not match his words. Since that time, he has pushed forward an infrastructure bill that benefits corporations and the wealthy the most while blocking needed action on voting rights, debt relief, climate resilience, health care expansion, and anti-poverty measures — programs the vast majority of his constituents need and support.
As we have pointed out in letters, town halls, motorcades, rallies, and actions directed at Manchin: “too many of us and our families will suffer needlessly because you refuse to pass moral policies” and “we are the cost of not building back better.” Moral policy is good economics. In fact, after Manchin shot down the Build Back Better agenda, Goldman Sachs lowered their economic forecast because failing to pass such economic investments will hurt the economy. When Manchin tells West Virginians and the nation that the United States — the richest nation ever to exist — doesn't have enough money to support Build Back Better Programs, he is lying. He lies when he asserts that economic investments will hurt the economy or that poor and low-income families need work requirements rather than a child tax credit. He doesn’t raise concerns about the national debt when it comes to the military or to corporate America; he’s never seen a corporate tax break he didn’t want or a military budget he wouldn’t pass.
Manchin displays hypocrisy in his political positions as well. His delay on voting rights is enabling a political coup to sweep through state legislatures, threatening our democracy. Manchin very publicly opposed the For the People Act (despite being a cosponsor on the voting rights measure when Rep. John Lewis was alive); he pressured senators to write the watered-down Freedom to Vote Act, which stripped out ethics provisions, suggested that voter IDs ensure confidence and access to voting, and framed the question of voting rights around the regressive and non-factual language of “election integrity” and “fraud,” instead of the very real threat of voter suppression. Even after all that, Manchin wasn’t able to get a single Republican to support this bill.
This year, The Intercept and Type Investigations looked into the environmental and public health impacts of Manchin’s family’s coal brokerage firms — from which Manchin has earned millions. As The Intercept also reported, Manchin’s daughter, as CEO of a drugmaker Mylan, was among those responsible for the inflated costs of the EpiPen, making millions off of the vulnerability of sick children. Her mother, Gayle Manchin, used her influence as head of the National Association of State Boards of Education to push for a requirement that schools have epinephrine on hand.
So Manchin drives a Maserati to his yacht, all the while worrying that the Build Back Better plan might be too generous to poor children — and falsely claiming that parents are using the child tax credit to buy drugs (a throwback to the problematic 1996 welfare reform debate).
As a Christian preacher and biblical scholar, the teachings of Matthew’s gospel speak to Manchin’s (im)moral actions of the day. Matthew 19 details the core commandments of all who claim to follow the faith of Jesus and then posits:
Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God … For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible … Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
Manchin and his family have enriched themselves at the expense of the poor, the sick, and the weak. They have hurt the vulnerable and have failed to use their position and influence to lift God’s people up or to repair breaches in society.
Sen. Manchin, listen to the words of the Gospel of Matthew. Hear God’s call that the first will be last and the last will be first. Truly, this is the story of Christmas: A movement is being born in the forgotten mangers, the poor hoods and hollers of a nation. And although those in power are willing to murder children in order to protect their wealth and privilege, the voices of mothers are crying out, refusing to be comforted, because, as Ms. Yara Allen sings in the anthem of our movement: “Somebody’s been hurting our people, and it’s gone on for far too long, and we won’t be silent anymore.”