The Estate Tax
The vote was symbolic. Senate Democrats (minus West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin) and President Obama remain opposed to a repeal, ensuring it won’t advance any further than it did today in the foreseeable future.
Among the groups leaning on lawmakers to roll back the tax: an association going by the nothing-to-see-here name of the Policy and Taxation Group, which has reportedly drawn support from a handful of super-rich families, including the Gallos, the Kochs, Mars’, and the Waltons. If Congressional Republicans think that’s the crowd most in need of a break this tax season, they should probably get out more.
Motorcycle enthusiasts and members of Congress are pushing to ban federal funding of local efforts to check helmet use or establish checkpoints that single out bikers.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., reintroduced his Stop Motorcycle Checkpoint Funding Act on Thursday, following the quiet introduction of a bill with the same name by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in January.The only Democrat signed on as co-sponsor is Joe Manchin.
Manchin has directed the state Department of Transportation to study whether West Virginia could do away with the helmet requirement, at least in part, while maintaining safety. . . .Manchin held a press conference on the steps of the state Capitol at 2 p.m., and then mounted his 1999 Harley Road King Classic and rode with about a dozen others to a motorcycle rally at Snowshoe Mountain.
Who says the Republicans don't care about women?
Fischer's bill paints Democrats into a corner. If they vote against it, they risk being accused of hypocritically blocking equal pay legislation. But they can't accept Fischer's legislation as a replacement for their own, more comprehensive bill, which they've been fighting to pass for years.
So, in other words, the Republican version borrows one idea from the Democratic version, skips the rest, and pretends that it is the best way to promote and enforce pay equality. And if Democrats really care about women and their paychecks, they should support this watered-down bill, which has the “bipartisan” support of Independent Sen. Angus King and “Democrats” Joe Donnelly and Joe Manchin. You know whose support it doesn’t have? The Democratic women who’ve been slamming their heads against their desks as Republicans insist America doesn’t need any more equal pay laws, thank you very much. But shouldn’t those ladies just shut their squeal holes and listen to the menfolk on this? (No, they should not, and they will not.)
Oil and gas drillers ran afoul of regulators on average 2.5 times a day in three energy-intensive states for mistakes such as wastewater spills, well leaks or pipeline ruptures during the boom in hydraulic fracturing.Online records in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado showed regulators issued 4,600 citations from 2009 to 2013, the Natural Resources Defense Council said Thursday in a report. The report excluded violations in 33 other states with drilling because such records aren’t available on the Internet.
The five healthiest counties in West Virginia, starting with most healthy, are Pendleton, Jefferson, Monongalia, Pleasants, and Upshur. The five counties in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are McDowell, Wyoming, Mingo, Logan, and Mercer.
For decades, people in southern West Virginia have suffered from elevated rates of health problems like lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and birth defects. In McDowell County, for example, life expectancy for females is about 73 years, approximately eight years below the national average.Although many attribute these problems to the poverty of the region, scientists and epidemiologists have been looking at a different culprit. Beginning in 2006, more than two dozen studies have explored the possibility of a link between the region’s illnesses and mountaintop removal mining, a common term for the surface mining of coal.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced that the state would conduct an official review of those studies, under the leadership of the state Bureau for Public Health’s commissioner, Dr. Rahul Gupta.
“We’ve already given 6,600 American lives trying to liberate and help that part of the world; we’ve spent about 2- to 3-trillion dollars,” Manchin said. “Under no circumstances do I believe us getting engaged in a ground war over there is going to change that part of the world. Hasn’t done it yet, and I don’t think it will.“When you put American troops in there, it’s like throwing gasoline on the fire.”
Supporters of the Keystone Pipeline, including Joe Manchin and our local "newspapers," have argued that building the pipeline is necessary for our energy independence. Interestingly, Joe and the Republican Party had a chance to demonstrate their support for that argument yesterday in the Senate. They failed miserably.
As David Nir at Daily Kos wrote earlier today:
Democratic Sen. Ed Markey had a good idea: Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline keep talking about how it'll improve America's energy security, so why not set that claim in stone? Markey proposed an amendment to the current Keystone legislation pending in the Senate that would require oil transported through the pipeline to remain in the United States. It only makes sense, right?
Guess who voted against the amendment? Every Senate Republican plus three Democrats:
Markey's amendment is good, populist politics, which is why senators from red states like Jon Tester (Montana), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), and Claire McCaskill (Missouri) all supported it. If anything, it's the kind of legislation you'd be happy to see your opponent oppose, since you can easily frame a vote against the amendment as a vote against U.S. interests.
But now Manchin, Warner, and Heitkamp are not only on the wrong side of this issue, they also look like phonies. And no voter likes a phony.
(Note to Kos staff – it’s embarrassing to them only if the local media report their vote and in the Northern Panhandle – that ain’t gonna happen.)
Did you see any mention of this amendment in today’s Intelligencer editorial about the pipeline? Of course not. If our oil needs are as important as that editorial suggests, why didn’t they take Joe and the Republican Party to task for their vote? The answer is simple: because the Keystone Pipeline is not about energy independence or even the cost at the pump, it’s about giving big oil what they want. Joe, the Republican Party, and our "newspapers" know that – they just need to keep repeating the right mantras ("energy independence" and "price at the pump") to carry the day.
I think Markey knew his amendment didn’t have a chance – in all likelihood it was an act of political theatre to call out and embarrass the supporters of the pipeline. Too bad most West Virginians won’t read or hear about this vote.
Correction January 22 - The vote was not on the amendment itself but rather on a motion to table it. (The end result is the same.)
Update January 22 - In addition, to the Markey amendment, Senator Al Franken also proposed an amendment:
Republicans also rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to require that if the pipeline is approved, it must be built with American iron and steel. Every Republican, except North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, voted to table that amendment as well.
Senator Manchin did support this amendment.
Manchin and the NRA
Senator Manchin has shown some independence lately. Not from the NRA, however, where Manchin (surprise, surprise) continues to voice the NRA line on Obama’s surgeon general nominee:
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Monday bucked Democratic leadership to vote against the controversial surgeon general nominee whom conservatives have bashed for calling gun violence a public health concern.
"I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism," Manchin said in a statement Monday an hour before the Senate confirmed Dr. Vivek Murthy in a 51-43 vote.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. had an excellent op-ed piece about West Virginia coal and Don Blankenship, "Coal, an Outlaw Enterprise," in yesterday's New York Times
Coal is an outlaw enterprise. In nearly every stage of its production, many companies that profit from it routinely defy safety and environmental laws and standards designed to protect America’s public health, property and prosperity. In fact, Mr. Blankenship once conceded to me in a debate that mountaintop removal mining could probably not be conducted without committing violations. With a business model like that, one that essentially relies on defiance of the law, it is no wonder that some in the industry use their inordinate political and economic power to influence government officials and capture the regulating agencies.
A Daily Kos diarist writes what may happen to prevailing wage laws in WV next month
Perhaps it's a reward for voting Republican.
Update December 20 - That didn't take long!
Today's lead editorial in the Intelligencer: "Prevailing Wage Law Too Costly."
The best congress money can buy?
Opensecrets.org recently did an analysis of lifetime political contributions to senators by the oil and gas industry and by environmental groups. They then looked at how the senator voted on the Keystone pipeline last month. Not surprisingly, they found a strong correlation between money received from oil and gas and a vote in favor of the pipeline. There also found a connection between a "no vote" and money contributed from environmental groups although the environmental groups have given far less. As the article’s title suggests: ""Yea" Votes Took In Six Times More Oil & Gas Money Than Opponents."
I was interested in how West Virginia’s two senators faired in this study. Joe Manchin, who was one of only 14 Democrats to vote for the pipeline, has received $280,000 in contributions from the oil and natural industries vs. $40,000 from environmental groups. Rockefeller, who voted "no," has received $320,000 from oil and gas and $60,000 from environmental groups in his 30 year tenure. Joe appears to be doing quite well with the oil and gas industry – dividing $280,000 by the four years he’s served works out to $70,000 a year. Compare that to Rockefeller whose $320,000 over thirty years yields only about $10,000 a year. I realize that inflation and the amount that these groups have given have increased significantly in the last couple of years. Still, it appears that Joe doesn’t discriminate when it comes to fossil fuels -- he's more than willing to do go to bat for all of them.
WV Senator Joe Manchin has been very busy lately. If you watch television news or read about what’s happening in Washington, you may have seen pictures of him yesterday with Senator Heidi Heitcamp supposedly trying to save fellow Democratic senator Mary Landrieu’s job by voting with the Republicans in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. (I don’t think that’s only reason they voted that way.)
Yesterday’s local paper had yet another editorial praising him – this time for not supporting their #2 most-evil-person-in-the-world, Harry Reid, for Minority Leader. The editorial did not mention, however, Joe’s co-authored op-ed piece for Monday’s Wall Street Journal. The piece, "The Fed Needs Governors Who Aren’t Wall Street Insiders (With two vacancies to fill, Obama should pick nominees who will look out for Main Street, not the big banks)" says what the long title indicates:
. . . the Federal Reserve—our first line of defense against another financial crisis—seems more worried about protecting Wall Street than protecting Main Street. Fortunately, this is one problem the Obama administration can start fixing today by nominating the right people to fill the two vacancies on the Fed’s Board of Governors.
And while the piece is probably a bit too populist for their liking, my hunch is that our local editors ignored it because the co-author is Elizabeth Warren, currently #3 on the Intelligencer’s most-hated-person list. Hmmm. For most of the year, almost any mention of Natalie Tennant in the Intelligencer meant that you could bet that she would immediately be connected to all those "ultra-liberals" - Obama, Reid and Warren. This week, Manchin co-authors a WSJ piece with Warren and not a single word is written -- he gets his usual free pass. Not too hypocritical.
As I suggested, Joe has been keeping busy. The Hill reports that Democrat Manchin will soon be giving up his position on the Senate Banking Committee so that newly-elected Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito can take his place and keep those big bucks from the big banks flowing her way. It’s not hard to see this as yet another indicator that Joe will soon be switching parties.
Cartoon by John Jonik (see more at http://jonikcartoons.blogspot.com/)
What about Democratic Party candidates in coal states actually doing something beyond parroting the Republicans?
From blogger Willnois from Daily Kos:
Democrats have two choices:
1) Run candidates who make unconvincing appeals that they're just as pro-coal as the Republican and continue losing year after year while never changing the conventional wisdom.
2) Talk about creating new energy economies in a way that builds support to win next time.
Political parties don't like to think beyond the next upcoming election, but it's going to take a long term strategy for Democrats to regain ground in post-coal country. Running on a new message may not work right away, but hey, the pro-coal Democrat is going to lose anyway. You might as well build for the future by honestly telling people we have to attract new energy jobs because the old coal jobs are never coming back .
It's only a matter of how long it takes party leaders to accept that fossil fuel Democrats aren't coming back either.
And yesterday's Charleston Gazette carried this op-ed piece from Jim Lees:
So in light of the recent election results, I ask a very simple question. What was the philosophy of the State Democrat Party that was the heart and soul of its persuasion strategy over the past 10 years? What were the opinions and biases the Democrat Party wished the people ofWest Virginia would form?
There was no philosophy. The thoughts and opinions of the West Virginia electorate are today a reflection of a well-executed Republican persuasion strategy boosted by Democratic candidates who in their zeal to win ran campaigns that simply chased the polls and boosted the Republican message. And because this vacuum of leadership failed to articulate a philosophy through a well-executed persuasion plan, November 4, 2014, became the date of death for the West Virginia Democrat Party.
And Joe Manchin still plans to play nice with the Republicans
As Talking Points Memo notes, Joe Manchin appears to be edging closer to the Republican Party:
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) made it clear in an interview published Monday that he has no plans to support Democrats who want to take a page out of the GOP playbook by obstructing the new Republican majority.
"That's bullshi—…. I'm not going to put up with that," Manchin told Politico when discussing the prospect of Democrats blocking the Republican agenda over the next two years.
Of course not, Joe. And here's a much more cynical take from Charlie Pierce:
So, naturally, the kidz went in search of the party's "centrist" intelligentsia because the most important thing in Washington now is to find enough Democrats who will go along with Republican ideas so everybody can "get along" and "gridlock" will end and the dinner parties and cocktail hours won't be so uncomfortable. So, come on down, Joe Manchin (D-Anthracite), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-GunsNAmmo), the maitre d's of the Appomattox Bar And Grille.
What's the future of health care in West Virginia?
Finally, there’s the future of health care in America and more specifically, West Virginia. It's still not certain but there appears to be some hope that it will survive in something close to its present form on the national level. (That is, if it survives the Supreme Court’s next decision on it.) I haven’t found much speculation on what might happen in West Virginia given the Republican takeover of both chambers. One diary-writer at dailykos.com does write:
West Virginia, too, seems to be putting Medicaid repeal on the back burner. Probably soon-to-be Republican state House Speaker Tim Armstead doesn't include Medicaid in this list of priorities which include "education reform, legal reform, infrastructure and tax and budget issues." Of course, it could sneak in on that "budget issues" line, but since for now the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab, it would be a hard case to make. Particularly since more than 150,000 West Virginians are now insured because of it.
It's time to blame Obama and Reid
A headline on the front page of today’s (Saturday) morning Intelligencer tells us that Joe Manchin believes that "Dems Lost Public Trust." Continuing his weeklong lecture on why the Democrats were losers on Tuesday, he’s dropped his Mountaineer football analogy and instead focused on the President and Harry Reid. (Good move, Joe – that guaranteed that you would make the front page.) Manchin also said that the outcome "is one that was not predicted – or believed to have been possible." (I guess he’s been without access to any media for the last month.) Finally, Manchin reiterated that he had no interest in switching parties preferring that both parties move toward the middle and "away from their radical fringes." (Someone needs to tell Joe about the political views of some of those Republicans who won on Tuesday – they certainly sound like they can’t wait to work and compromise with the Democrats!) As for switching parties, I still think, despite his protestations, that he’s seriously considering it. If he does it, he’ll wait for the right moment and then blame it on Obama and Reid and tell us how it’s the only thing he can do to look after the best interests of West Virginians.
From this morning's Charleston Gazette:
Sen. Joe Manchin said the West Virginia Democratic Party and its leaders should not be blamed for the shellacking that Democrats took in state and federal races.
Who, then, is responsible?
Manchin suggested that Democrats in Washington became complacent after the party won back-to-back presidential elections. "It was no different than WVU’s [football] game Saturday against TCU," he said. "West Virginia should have won that game by all rights. It got to the point where we said, ‘OK, we’re ahead now, can we just wait out the clock?’ And we got beat. That happens in Washington. They waited it out and got beat."
"No different"? That’s a terrible analogy. The Democrats lost for a number of reasons -- waiting for the game to end was not one of them. The Democratic Party never had a clearly defined message as the Republicans did with their "elect us - we will defeat Obama and the EPA and return West Virginia to the 1950s and 1960s when coal was king." For the Republicans it didn’t matter that the war on coal was lost many years ago with the increasing mechanization of the mines long before the EPA became concerned with carbon emissions and decades before Obama was elected President. And never mind that the marketplace has clearly decided that natural gas is a much cheaper alternative to coal. The Republicans had a message and they had a very convenient scapegoat in the President for all that has gone wrong in West Virginia. And what was the response from the Democrats? "We agree." What I’ve written about Tennant applies just as well to the congressional candidates: you can’t out-Capito Capito – the voters will go with the original.
Will the election of Republicans return the state to those glory days that seniors (who are just about the only people who vote in this state) so fondly remember? Of course not. Reversing the decline of coal isn’t going to happen regardless of who we elect to Congress or, for that matter, the state legislature. Compared to cheap natural gas, coal doesn’t stand a chance. And while Republicans may have won big on Tuesday in coal states, the rest of the United States is still moving away from coal regardless of who was elected.
Okay, I’ve said what I thought Tennant and the congressional candidates did wrong. What would I have done differently? Here are a couple of thoughts. First, I would have pushed what the Democrats have done for West Virginians. In particular, I would have featured health care (yes, it’s called "Obamacare") which the Republicans repeatedly tried to revoke. West Virginia now has over 150,000 people who did not have health care at this time last year. How many times did Capito vote to defund it? (Last spring in Wheeling at West Liberty’s political rally for her she said "I don’t know anyone who likes it." I would have shown the clip with the tag "and she was telling the truth.") Along the same lines, it was our Democratic governor who pushed for the extension of these health care benefits. I would have also stressed the historic core of the Democrats – support for unions and a strong working/middle class and what the Republicans are trying to do to both of them. Additionally, I would have attacked much more than Tennant did Capito’s Wall Street and banking connections and how much money she has gotten from them. Finally (and I realize this would have been risky), I would have come out against mountaintop removal mining by discussing the health risks and what it is doing to the inherent beauty of the state. I realize that saying anything against mining is dangerous but I’ve seen a couple of polls that say that a majority of West Virginian’s are against it.
I don’t know that anything could have prevented the Republicans from winning this year – it may have been "a perfect storm." My fear, however, is that this "me too" approach to campaigning will become the Democratic response in future elections in which case they will become a permanent minority party. Instead of "me too," what about developing a vision that stresses the middle and working classes, unions, and the development of a future vision for the state in which coal is not the only answer?
Update I - November 7
According to the morning Intelligencer, Manchin is visiting the area and saying that he wants to work with the Republicans. Maybe it's me but I came away from the article with the feeling that Joe might have switched parties had the Republicans really needed him. And then there is this:
Manchin said he's a firm believer that the game of politics should end on Election Day.
"After that, you'd better be working on the policies for the people that sent you" to Washington, he said.
Yeah, right. Joe won't be playing any politics until 2016.
Update II - November 7
The Associated Press is reporting this morning that West Virginia's voter turnout was the lowest in many years.
While West Virginia Republicans made historic gains this election, the state’s voters set a low mark for making their voices heard.
A paltry 37.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots in this year’s general election, the lowest turnout for a regular general election in at least 64 years, according to figures from the secretary of state.
The article does not break the voting down by age groups but if WV is like the rest of the nation, the senior vote was especially critical.
A voter statistic I'd like to see is the percentage of new health care enrollees who voted. And I doubt that I will see it, but it would be interesting if some exit poll told us how they voted.