Joe Manchin’s Angry About Biden Energy Policy, But Is Anyone Listening?

As I wrote back in August after he entered into his weak bargain with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), few political figures in American history have surrendered so much leverage for so little in return than West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin did in finally caving in and becoming the deciding vote on the mis-named Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

At that time, Manchin, as Chairman of the key Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in an evenly-divided Senate, had arguably been the single most powerful political figure in the nation’s capital for the previous 20 months. The Senator knew that President Joe Biden and his fellow Senate Democrats could not pass any big legislation dealing with energy and environmental issues without his support, and he had used that leverage to hold up progress on what had originally been called the “Build Back Better” bill for at least a year. Exercising that leverage against that particular bill was a popular thing back in Manchin’s heavily-Republican home state of Virginia, placing the senator in a strong posture to run for re-election to a third term in 2024.

Most observers assumed that Machin would ultimately extract his pound of political flesh in return for eventual support of the re-named IRA. In the latter stages of negotiations on the bill, Manchin was focused in on including provisions that would help streamline federal permitting processes for energy projects of all sorts. He had been pressuring the Biden administration to issue final permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which would carry Marcellus Shale natural gas to the Southeastern states, and the assumption by many was that Manchin would insist on inclusion of language that would ensure such approval.

Rather than driving such a hard bargain, though, Manchin chose instead to settle for what has turned out to have been a fruitless promise from Sen. Schumer and then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to simply hold a vote on a separate bill dealing with permitting matters. Very predictably, the vote held in September on that bill was killed by a combination of progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans, and Sen. Manchin has been left holding an empty bag ever since.

Now, Manchin is telling reporters that he is angry about the manner in which the Biden administration bureaucracies are going about implementing some provisions of the IRA. A Feb. 9 report in Politico quotes Manchin expressing particular anger over the way in which provisions governing the qualifications for the new, $7,500 per unit subsidy for electric vehicles is being enforced. Or rather, the way he believes they are not being enforced by Biden officials.

Those provisions ostensibly require a great deal of domestic content in the sourcing of materials for and construction of EVs and their batteries in order for the car buyers to qualify for the new credit. But the Biden administration has devised various ways to work around those restrictions, and has been essentially approving the credit without enforcing them.

Manchin, whose public approval poll ratings back home have plummeted since reaching his bad bargain on the IRA, now says he’s angry and somehow surprised by this, even though he was repeatedly warned that the bill would be implemented in this way. “They almost act like they gotta send $7,500 or a person won’t buy a car. Which is crazy, ludicrous thinking for the federal government,” Manchin told Politico. “I just totally and absolutely am disagreeing with what they’re doing.”

Sen. Manchin is also claiming that he saw the IRA as an “energy security matter,” even though most in the nation’s capital understood it was mainly a funding mechanism for implementation of the Biden climate change agenda. The main, most publicized feature of the law, after all, is its whopping $369 billion suite of new incentives and subsidies for projects that can be classified as “green.”

Indeed, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Biden called the IRA “the most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis, lowering utility bills, creating American jobs, and leading the world to a clean energy future.” Biden then added, almost as an afterthought, that “we’re still going to need oil and gas for awhile,” clarifying amid hoots and jeers from the Republican side of the House chamber that “we’re going to need oil for at least another decade.”

There isn’t much, if anything, in those words about the “energy security” that Sen. Manchin now claims he thought the bill was all about. “This is bullsh*t,” he told Politico. “So they’re gonna basically starve us out of energy that we have a tremendous, abundant supply of because of their aspirational thoughts? I will continue to fight and I’ll do everything I can to make sure the public knows what they’re doing and what it will do to you and your economy and your lifestyle.”

So, the Senator is angry, and he’s not above using curse words to let the voters back home know it. The question now, after he surrendered so much leverage and power last August and is no longer the deciding vote on anything in a Senate in which his party now holds a clear majority, is whether anyone is listening anymore.