Earlier this month, as negotiations on the Build Back Better Act continued, The Washington PostGreg Sargent called Senator Joe Manchin’s obstructive position in relation to the hugely popular childcare, elderly care, family vacations, free community college, green jobs (and more) “arbitrary centrism”. Someone he interviewed, Samuel Hammond of the centrist Niskanen Center, called it “performative austerity”. That got me to “dog whistle” personally, although I’m not sure whether Sargent or Hammond would sign it. But let’s be clear: Manchin’s language – especially about “eligibility” and “means test” – comes straight from the 1990s. At that point, white Democrats (and to be honest a couple of black Democrats) attacked many programs set up to support poor families, claiming they had allowed their supposedly worst habits: idleness and – I’m not sure as to whether there is a single word here – failure to marry.
Oh excuse me, their mothers worst habits. Do you remember as The new republic Put a black mother on the cover, smoking, and titled her leading article with the demand for a social reform “Day of reckoning: now sign the welfare law”?
Those were the days! At least for white male Democrats who were borderline racist, or maybe even genuinely racist – or just trying to woo genuinely racist voters. They could even say that they were trying to help poor people. President Clinton’s 1996 Personal Responsibility and Job Opportunities Reconciliation Act, passed with bipartisan support, allowed states to cut cash benefits and impose work demands on welfare recipients. The result, 25 years later, is a safety net so threadbare that many families fall right through it.
Meanwhile, a few years ago, Donald Trump and then House Speaker Paul Ryan found a common cause in trying to impose work requirements on food stamp recipients and Medicaid. This time around, the Democrats got none of it – and when they retook the house in 2018, they packed those ideas into Spokesman Ryan’s office and mailed them to … I don’t even know without Googling where Paul Ryan is now. That’s a good feeling. But now we have Joe Manchin doing Paul Ryan’s dirty work.
Manchin has told Democrats that the Child’s Extended Tax Credit (CTC) must have a new work requirement and be limited to a family income of approximately $ 60,000. “I made it very clear who we are as a society, who we are as a nation,” he said recently. “I don’t think we should turn our society into an advocate society. I think we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society. ”
On the night of October 21, President Joe Biden told a CNN City Hall that he was declining to work. “All of these people work anyway,” he said to Anderson Cooper. (And those who do not work are disproportionately the poorest of the poor.) So it should be – unless there is no word on whether President Manchin will approve.
What is Manchin really doing here?
I am agnostic as to whether the CTC should be capped. I know parents in New York and San Francisco who make decent money but were happy to have some breathing space – for childcare, orthodontics, or unexpected crises. Parents everywhere use it to buy baby food, school supplies and … just plain regular food.
Given that the 48 decent Democrats who support Biden’s bill have to come to 50 and the two Democrats whose votes they need are not entirely decent, there needs to be some negotiation. (Still not sure what Kyrsten Sinema is up to.) If you’re reading this, the deal could be closed. But it’s worth noting that one job requirement is a dog whistle played along old racist stereotypes when in reality more white families would be hurt than anyone else. Doesn’t Manchin know that we can all hear him?
Furthermore, as Greg Sargent pointed out, Mr. West Virginia would only harm West Virginia with his proposals. The Niskanen Center found that the state of Manchin ranks in the top 10 for increasing purchasing power thanks to the CTC. If Manchin got its way, Sargent wrote, “the number of children who benefit would be reduced by as much as 190,000 and the state’s residents could lose more than a quarter of a billion dollars in purchasing power annually.” “If Manchin is concerned about addiction, the value should be in the fact that the CTC is relatively universal,” Hammond told Sargent. “Focusing credit closely on families with the lowest incomes risks creating a stigmatizing poverty trap.”
The Democrats have come a long way since the 1990s. There is near consensus that the big problem facing American families is income inequality and inability to move forward, not “dependency.” Manchin’s “performative austerity course” is therefore a step backwards. It is designed to show his state’s mostly white voters that he is on the lookout for welfare scammers and others trying to outsmart the system – even if it withholds the necessary help from those same voters.
Coupled with his alleged offer to leave the Democratic Party for independence (while still working with the Democrats), shows his argument with Senator Bernie Sanders (in which he allegedly said he would not bill the Biden Act at all prefer) that Manchin clearly enjoys the limelight. But let’s make sure we look closely at how backward his priorities are. The promotion of “funds checks” and the destruction of “claims” go back to a punitive and often racist approach in social policy. You don’t have to leave the Democratic Party, Senator Manchin. But you may need to realize that the party has already left you.