On Manchin: I’ll Say It Again, but LOUDER!

Once again, we have a clear example of how it is the conservative Democrats, and not the left/progressives, who are the problem for the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, everybody in the party now gets to pay the price.

Yacht-Dwelling Coal Multi-Millionaire Joe Manchin Screws Over the World, Earns Some Consequences

Our Present Disgraceful Situation

Progressives were screeched at by fuming and swooning party regulars for insisting that the Infrastructure Bill be tied to the Build Back Better “soft infrastructure” bill, because they believed that otherwise conservative Dems would not vote for the BBB. “NO, WE GUARANTEE IT!“, the party regulars said. And today we found out that the lefties who predicted that they couldn’t get this passed without leverage were right and the party regulars were full of shit.

Look, I’m glad that the infrastructure plan passed, because we do need to repair old infrastructure before it collapses. (We don’t need new infrastructure as badly, though.) And it did contain provisions that would help alleviate some climate warming. So I am glad that it passed … but sorry that we lost our leverage to get much of what Democratic candidates campaigned on in front of the whole country in 2020. Manchin never truly promised to vote for the plan — as progressives pointed out — but the thinking was that he would eventually come around, in response to direct lobbying from Joe Biden, rather than give the Biden Administration a huge black eye.

Surprise! — if one can say “Surprise!” when something was not a surprise at all — Manchin didn’t come around. He claims to be too concerned about the national debt — a lame excuse for someone who lives on a yacht and does not want to tax the rich enough to ameliorate that debt– but essentially, he’s interested in (1) maintaining his power as the deciding vote in the Senate and (2) “hippie-punching,” i.e., sadistically screwing over the left to show who’s boss.

Lower information voters — and a few leftist demagogues — want to place the blame for this on Biden’s shoulders because they assert that “he must have been in on this.” I’m taking them on over that implausible assertion, but while Biden’s in the clear I can’t argue as effectively that the party as a whole isn’t partly to blame. We know that Kyrstin Sinema finally came around to supporting a scaled-back BBB better bill — but if someone believes that she only did so because Manchin told her “don’t worry, little lady, you just do what’s in your best interest and I’ll scuttle this bill all by myself, who can say that they’re wrong?” I would bet my left arm that Biden was not taking a dive here; I wouldn’t bet the fingernail on my left pinkie finger that Sinema wasn’t. And who’s to say that there wasn’t another Democratic Senator or two (or more) lined up to have second thoughts about this plan if they were needed to block it? I really doubt it, but there comes a time when deeds matter a hell of a lot more than words.

One of the worst parts of the present situation is that we still can’t serve Manchin with the political consequences he truly deserves without him possibly leaving the Democratic Caucus and letting Mitch McConnell become Senate Majority Leader, ensuring that Joe Biden never gets another appointment approved or passes another piece of legislation for potentially the rest of his term. I can’t even call Manchin a “thug” or a “bully” or a “rat bastard” without potentially hurting his fee-fees and destroying humanity.

But we can use a series of carrots and sticks to perhaps change his mind. I published an earlier version of this story back on October 28 — without much apparent influence on the world — but I’ve elaborated the story and will try again now, taking out the now supposedly irrelevant references to Sen. Sinema.

My Short Post from October 29

Just Let Little West Virginia Mine Its Coal!

The way to get West Virginia’s U.S. Senator Joe Manchin on board with President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan is to make him an offer he can’t refuse. I’m not talking about cutting off a horse’s head and putting it in his bed; it’s not clear that that would bother him. I’m talking about giving West Virginia exactly what it says it wants — the resurrection of its coal mining industry for as long as the coal lasts — in exchange for his support.

Fate has put Manchin in a position where he’s one of two Senators who can block the signature achievement of the Biden Administration, not only making global devastation by climate change significantly more likely but also making it more likely that we see a Trump (or Trumpesque) resurgence in 2024. We can’t shame him into action; we can’t wish that reality away. It’s time to stop screwing around.

Here’s my plan: if he acts fast, West Virginia gets an exemption from every federal regulation related to mining coal. They can dig as much as they want. They can blow off mountaintops if they want to. They can give tens of thousands of willing miners black lung disease. Hopefully, they use this opportunity as a chance to transition to a non-carbon economy — but if they don’t, then that’s their business.

Can Manchin say no to that? If he brought home this deal, he’d apparently be a state hero. Another full generation of mining! W00t <*cough*> W00t!

There are two catches: first, Manchin has to agree to vote for the plan at a much higher figure, and with much less carping about creating an “entitlement society,” than he’d like. All that negotiating down the price tag goes away.

Second, West Virginia can only sell that coal to the United States government — possibly at whatever market price exists, but better at a fixed price. West Virginia is, thus, “made whole.”

But doesn’t that mean no reduction in roasting the globe? No! Once we own it, it’s ours to do with as we wish — and we don’t have to burn it! Part of the deal should be that the federal government will sit on all of that mined coal, in what I’ll call a “Strategic Coal Reserve” — for at least 10 years, with a supermajority of both houses of Congress required for any of it to be released. (Possibly, we could arrange for small amounts to be released for emergency and foreign aid use — but not much per year.) Some day, when it’s safe, it may get burned — but probably slowly, over time.

Is this what I want? No. But it’s what I’ll settle for!

West Virginia coal production rose to 93 million short tons in 2019, down to about 60 million in 2020. Its reserves are estimated as about 1,567 million short tons. Let’s assume that, in the future, it will be able to produce around 78 million short tons per year. That gives it 20 years remaining of coal production.

That coal currently sells for about $61 per short ton. Let’s say that the government would maintain that price. (Manchin would like for it to go up over time, while I’d like it to go down, so this is a compromise.) Than means that the coal reserves of West Virginia are currently worth about $95,587,000,000. That’s $95.6 billion — a small fraction of the multitrillion dollar price tag of the BBB bill before Manchin whittled it down. So put an extra $100 billion into the bill, to pay for the Strategic Coal Reserve. Where will the Strategic Coal Reserve be? In West Virginia, of course — where coal will be loaded into sacks or boxes or whatever works, and loaded into already spent coal mines, ready to be snatched up when (and if) we’re ready. It will await either new technologies that allow greater carbon capture, or potentially released when reductions in global warming allow for it to happen without too many untoward effects. It won’t need to be mined, however — just loaded up, hauled up, and sent on its way via electric trains.

Now is it fair that West Virginia is the only state that will benefit from this plan? No, it is not fair! Wyoming digs more coal, for example. But, you know what? TOUGH! Fate has put West Virginia’s Senator in the position of having to be bought off — and not Wyoming’s Senators, who are both opposed no matter what. So, Wyoming: “YOU … GET … NOTHING!” Some future Republican government may make the same deal for you, and that might be fine. But not now.

The good thing about this proposal is that it respects the West Virginian self-perceived ethos that you work hard for your money rather than taking handouts. OK — doesn’t matter whether I agree, we’ll just respect their belief and make them work for it! But we will control when that coal is actually burned — and that’s what matters.

Frankly, West Virginia has always needed propping up by the federal government — former U.S. Senator Robert F. Byrd was literally considered to be it’s greatest industry for years while he was in Congress, based on dollars brought into the state, so let’s not quibble about how the sausage is being made. Getting Manchin to take this deal would be — sing it with me! — “Almost Heaven….” And if Manchin doesn’t take this deal now, it will never be available again!

But Enough About the Carrots; Now I Want to Talk About Sticks!

(1) Properly valued, the coal in West Virginia is worth nothing. Its effect on global warming far outweighs — in its influence over what other global actors will do, even if not in and of itself — the benefit to be had from that coal. So what I want to see President Biden do now is just take every bit of coal that doesn’t require mountaintop removal. The government will take over that property for national defense purposes and give the miners the option of seeing military troops and contractors coming in the fig the coal or to do it themselves as federal employees. Either way, it goes into the Strategic Coal Reserve and maybe we’ll have made enough progress against global warming to burn it in 50 years.

Based on the above reasoning, the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause won’t apply. But If the Supreme Court says that the federal government does have to pay for it, fine — it just goes into the federal debt that gives Joe Manchin the vapors (except when wars and tax cuts are concerned.) But I think that he’ll be hard pressed to oppose a deal that puts the state’s miners back to work for the 20 years possible until the coal is entirely gone (if we decide to ruin the state’s environment by removing mountaintops.

Manchin can’t put those miners to work: Biden can — with or without Joe Manchin.

(2) Hey, remember that infrastructure bill that Manchin voted for? Well, we want to be fair in doling out that money! Unfortunately for West Virginia, it will have used up its share of the money on infrastructure to be used in coal mining and building the Strategic Coal Reserve. So, given Manchin’s position, West Virginia won’t be getting any new roads and bridges — but if Manchin votes for BBB, it can have mining jobs while they last! (It can have child care, family leave, and much more, though — if BBB passes.)

(3) Am I concerned about Manchin installing McConnell if Biden tried this? Sure! But he’s put us in a position where it still might be the best of bad options. The public has apparently decided that it sort of likes having a strongman as a leader — so let’s see how much that like it when the boots are on the other foot! This may eventually involve a little defiance of the ferociously partisan Supreme Court, but frankly the Court is massively unpopular and that would just help with Democratic victories in 2022 and 2024 — not that that’s my reason for proposing this. (I’d be much happier if the Supreme Court just returned to pre-Trump normalcy.) Speaking of politics, Joe Manchin is probably the last Democrat that will ever represent West Virginia, and it will never vote Democratic again, so we don’t have to worry about losing electoral votes and such. But, frankly — using the same authority that allowed West Virginia peel away from Virginia during the Civil War — I’d be pretty happy to see the Northern Panhandle and Monongalia County, home to West Virginia University, given to Pennsylvania in the deal. (This might be a pipe dream.)

(4) Biden may also consider another approach: winning over Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski with amazing subsidies to her state — not including the North Slope Oil Development that she wants. But a massive new military at the North Slope so that people can have a nice close look at Russia? Why not?

I’m being guided in some of this by thinking: “What Would Trump Do?” I don’t usually use the despicable Former Guy as my lodestar, but if there’s one thing he understood it was how to play dirty. And if there’s one thing that the coal baron Manchin should understand, it’s dirtiness.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)