This past fall, as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) worked to gut Democrats’ marquee Build Back Better Act – which he would later kill – his political action committee received an influx of donations from huge corporations, some of which would have been directly impacted by proposals in the bill.
New Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings reviewed by CNBC show that in October and November, Manchin’s PAC received a total of 36 contributions from corporations, a spike from previous months.
In October, the leadership PAC Country Roads received over $150,000 in donations from donors like Verizon and Wells Fargo. It also raked in cash from PACs affiliated with the coal and mining industries, to which Manchin is closely tied.
A month later, the PAC received donations ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 from influential financial giants American Express and Goldman Sachs. It also saw contributions from natural gas company CNX Resources and health insurance companies UnitedHealth Group and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Meanwhile, Manchin’s PAC got a contribution from Lockheed Martin as the Senate was considering a massive defense budget of $778 billion, which Manchin voted to pass with no objections, despite his supposed concerns about government spending.
October and November were critical months for negotiations on the Build Back Better Act. In October, Manchin succeeded in getting the White House to slash the bill’s price tag of $3.5 trillion over ten years, even though the bill would have been fully paid for. That same month, he got the centerpiece of the bill’s climate proposals, which would have been the main driver of climate emission reductions, slashed from the legislation. Soon after, he issued an ultimatum to progressive lawmakers, forcing them to cut at least one of the bill’s provisions aimed at helping families.
November was similarly eventful for the legislation. Some conservative House representatives insisted that the bill contain a lightening of the state and local tax (SALT) cap, which allows people to deduct state tax bills from their federal taxes.
Conservative Democrats advocated for cutting the cap altogether, which would have provided tax breaks nearly exclusively for the rich; even in its watered-down form, the proposal is still a handout to millionaires looking to dodge taxes. The House passed the bill in November, sending the soon-to-be-doomed legislation to the Senate.
Earlier this week, Manchin announced that there is no path for him to support the Build Back Better Act going forward – and suggested that there never was one to begin with – effectively killing the bill, which needs all 50 Democratic senators’ votes to pass. This a huge blow to Democrats and to families who have been relying on financial assistance like the child tax credit or looking forward to provisions like paid sick leave.
This is also a devastating blow to the global community, as the reconciliation bill is Joe Biden’s last chance to take meaningful action on the climate crisis before Republicans are likely to take the majority in at least one chamber of Congress in 2022. The U.S. plays an outsized role in perpetuating the climate crisis, which research finds contributes to millions of deaths around the world each year.
It’s unclear why Manchin would make this drastic move, especially after he had such an enormous hand in shaping the legislation. Certainly, his party only stands to lose by failing to deliver on the centerpiece of Joe Biden’s agenda, named after his administration’s premier slogan. Some commentators have speculated that Manchin could be planning a presidential run; others have noted that he is basking in the power, attention and donations he is receiving as he subverts his own party, including contributions from right-wing sources that are funded by the Koch network.
While campaigns and PACs aren’t required to disclose specific reasons for donations in their FEC filings, many of the corporations that donated to Manchin’s PAC – if not all of them – have a vested interest in killing the Build Back Better Act. Any legislation that would have incentivized renewable energies would have hurt coal and fossil fuel companies’ bottom lines, while a corporate minimum tax would have forced companies that often dodge paying federal income taxes to pay a minimum rate of 15 percent.