Joe Manchin is taking a well-deserved beating in the press. Undoubtedly, he could not care less. Still, it’s nice to see journalists, including our own AZBlueMeanie, take Manchin to task for his cynicism.
But are we kidding ourselves believing that Manchin is the real problem here? “The only pathway out of the nightmare we are living is to elect more Democrats to the Senate.” BlueMeanie notes. Doing so would “render Sens. Manchinema “Mr. and Mrs. Irrelevant” on their way out the door in 2024.”
Would it? Or is our political reality closer to Jonathan Chait’s view:
Moderates have been privately coordinating their opposition, and it seems very likely that Manchin’s sudden opposition to raising taxes on the rich comes not from him, but from them — he sometimes takes the heat for fellow Democratic moderates. In this case, he is likely channeling their concerns and passing them off as his own.
I’m all for electing more Democrats to the Senate, but I contend we should be assuming that, by itself, won’t be enough. Increase that Senate majority to 52 and you’ll see another squishy centrist voicing “concerns” about legislation to tax the rich. There’s just no bottom to their cravenness. For example, check out this reporting:
Legislation passed by the House and considered by the Senate last year included language that would have made all insulin products subject to Medicare price negotiation and that would have capped Medicare beneficiaries’ insulin copays at $35 per month.
Both provisions have been left out of the latest draft of the bill released by the Senate Finance Committee, however, much to the dismay of consumer advocates and people with diabetes.
It mystifies me how these folks can look at themselves in the mirror these days.
The best analysis I’ve seen of what’s taking place here is from Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor. In her recent, exquisitely titled column, The Pitchforks Aren’t Coming, she summarizes the disastrous results of the 18-month-long effort to tax the billionaire class:
So there you have it. The pitchforks aren’t coming. At least not the way some had expected. The top marginal tax rate isn’t going back up to 39.6 percent. We are not going to tax capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income. The corporate income tax rate isn’t going up. We’re not ending the step-up-in-basis or closing the carried-interest loophole. There will be no “billionaire’s tax.” None of it is happening.
One of the last proposals to tossed aside, by the way, was a surtax on incomes over $10 million per year. It would have applied to the top 0.02 percent of the population, about 30,000 taxpayers. Our own Kyrsten Sinema was working to torpedo this proposal. [Years ago, when I criticized Sinema’s votes as a House member, the scolds at this site condescendingly explained how she was in a “tough district.” I wonder: Have they reconsidered that wisdom?]
The reason the pitchforks aren’t coming (now) is that the folks who the pitchforks would be coming for — the billionaire class — have far too much political clout. In the 2020 election cycle, billionaires pumped over $1.2 billion into federal elections, about 10 percent of the total. You can read more about that here. Yes, most of it goes to Republicans, but enough goes to centrist Democrats — not just Manchin and Sinema — to rig the system in favor of the billionaires.
But let’s remember what those taxes were going to fund: climate measures. On this point, Kelton is spot on:
There’s a lot we can’t predict in life. But one thing is for sure. Climate change is an accelerant on inequality. Within a few decades, billions of people will be forced to migrate due to extreme weather, rising sea levels, and damaged ecosystems. Fires will continue to ravage communities, rivers will swallow more homes, heat-related deaths will mount, and food shortages will lead to mass starvation. That is not a world in which the pitchforks can be kept at bay.
We need to act now!
So, how do we act? Do we vote harder? Do we elect more Democrats and hope we can lobby them to do the right thing?
Actually, yes, we do. But we absolutely can’t assume that will save us. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Douglass told us long ago. “It never did and it never will.” Asking congressional Democrats to tax the rich and address climate change is problematical in this regard for two reasons. First, asking is not demanding. Second, congressional Democrats are not the “power” here. The billionaire class is.
And that’s where the pitchforks come in, figuratively of course. The billionaire class will not voluntarily cough up the funds needed to meaningfully address climate change. And they’re not going to voluntarily stop blocking climate measures that threaten their fortunes. This moment is not unlike others in the past — civil rights, the Vietnam war, women’s suffrage, to name a few. We’re not going to get there on taxation or climate change unless it gets super uncomfortable for the billionaire class and those who do their bidding in Congress. And the sooner that process starts, the better.