Manchin and bipartisanship

With the U.S. Senate politically split 50-50, conservative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin has positioned himself as the go-to ringmaster, directing debate from the political center to bring bipartisan influence to the lawmaking on Capitol Hill.

First up this session, the Biden administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion pandemic relief. Manchin’s challenge? Convincing 10 centrist Republican senators to sign on to nearly doubling the national minimum wage and handing out an extra $1,400 to all American households regardless of current income.

Failing to clear that high hurdle, West Virginia’s senior senator must fall back into his lane and help fellow Democrats push the bill through to the finish line, regardless of how many Republicans follow.

President Biden wants to move quickly on the bill, warning of a growing “cost of inaction.” His message has been simple: Fresh and generous government aid is needed and needed now to prevent deep and lasting damage to the world’s largest economy. He argues that an aggressive push for vaccinations and aid to individuals would help put parents back to work and let children return to school.

Last month, more than 120 economists and policymakers signed a letter in support of Biden’s package, writing, “What our nation cannot afford is inaction or timidity in the face of what many consider to be the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression.”

The letter went on to say that the pandemic has had a catastrophic impact not just on the nation’s economy, but on families and businesses, too. Since the crisis began, the letter read, tens of millions have been forced to file for unemployment insurance, nearly 8 million have fallen into poverty, hundreds of thousands of businesses have shuttered, our nation’s industrial production has been severely damaged, and the inability of millions to make their rent and mortgage payments is threatening to plunge the country into a housing emergency.

We should not lose sight of the fact that with the government spending nearly $4 trillion in aid in 2020, the economic decline was not as severe as initially feared. Those emergency expenditures kept Americans afloat — housed, fed and — in some instances — employed and able to pay down debt and build savings amid the crisis.

Certainly, $1.9 trillion is a serious pile of cash, and, yes, Manchin and his centrist colleagues are justified in asking pertinent questions, such as if the $1,400 handout could be targeted. A family of four with an annual household income of $40,000 is in greater need right now than a couple making $300,000.

That seems like a reasonable consideration.

So, too, does a plan to gradually but certainly move to a higher minimum wage.

And if there are other considerations that can be addressed and negotiated without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, then, yes, lawmakers should take a look.

But at the end of the day our senators and representatives need to understand that the need is real out here, that people are struggling with paying the bills, and the greater risk to healing our economy and simultaneously putting a lid on the coronavirus is being timid in the face of a monumental challenge.

Sen. Manchin cannot let his pursuit of bipartisanship stand in the way of sorely needed assistance.

* Guest editorial from The Register-Herald in Beckley, W.Va.


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