If you look at a “typical” 30-day period of activity in the U.S. Congress, you see that legislation introduced in the Senate is often a balanced blend of policy areas. There will be a relatively equal amount of activity around such issues as health, national security, taxation, agriculture, education, and all of the other matters relevant to government. However, as the 116th Congress, which was sworn in on January 3, 2019, began their service while the government was shutdown,there was a lot of emphasis on issues like government operations, labor and employment and Congress itself.
Why? Though there have been other partial shutdowns in the past, none went on as long as that which ran from late December of 2018 to late January of 2019. The longest in history, it was also an extreme hardship on more than 800k government workers and contractors “furloughed” throughout the period. Many Americans misunderstand the implications of a shutdown, thinking that workers are left unpaid throughout the period but can count on payment once the government re-opens.
This is not entirely true. Many of the furloughed workers were excepted, meaning they were obliged to work even though they were doing so without pay. This included the entire U.S. Coast Guard (and many of the programs those in service or married to service members count on, like childcare), many TSA workers, those who do inspections for the USDA, and thousands more.
Many of those excepted workers are not highly paid, and so they were forced to borrow money, visit food banks and take other difficult measures to survive the shutdown.
Additionally, workers not employed by the government but earning as contracted workers rarely get reimbursed for the income lost during shutdowns. This too was something that many in Congress sought to address in the opening weeks of the 116th Congress. This is why those first four weeks of the 116th Congress featured the introduction of legislation that emphasized the struggles of those so strongly affected by the shutdown.
While some of the bills, resolutions, laws or amendments proposed were bipartisan, many were not. Legislators from both sides of the aisle introduced their own items relating to Congressional and Executive pay being withheld rather than or in the event of shutdowns, opening the government without a budget, getting groups paid before the shutdown ended, ensuring contracted workers were paid, and more.
So, the traditional work of Congress had a different look to it in those weeks, and though Senators and House Reps kept working to overcome the budget issues that caused the shutdown, they also did the work they were elected to do.
If you do not know exactly what lies behind a shutdown, it is actually quite easy to understand. A partial shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass the budget, or the President does not sign it into law. This leaves the U.S. Treasury without the authority to release funding to the government agencies and/or departments in need of funding.
While some areas of the government affected by the shutdown managed to get a few weeks into the new year without additional funding, most ended up unable to meet expenses, particularly payroll. And so, all of that legislation appeared as an attempt to work around the budgetary impasse. When the shutdown did end, there were still issues with a potential shutdown in the future, and further legislation appeared as an effort to thwart such tactics.
While only a handful of Senators introduced these specific kinds of laws, bills, and resolutions, many cosponsored them. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is among them.
In this article, we are going to look at all of the work he has done on behalf of his constituency in order to uncover any influence from his financial backers. For instance, does any legislation he introduced seem out of line with his stated priorities?
To begin answering that in a reasonable manner, we are going to consider his career history, his committee work, and then his backers. After that, we’ll consider what sort of legislation he has emphasized thus far, and gauge whether there has been influence from financial interests.
About Senator Joe Manchin
Born in 1947 in West Virginia, he grew up in a small coal mining town where his father was a local merchant and also served as mayor. His family had a history of serving in state politics, and one of his uncles was both the West Virginia Secretary of State and the State Treasurer.
After graduating from the local high school, Manchin won a scholarship to attend West Virginia University where he graduated with a business administration degree in 1970. Over a decade later, he ran for election in his state’s House of Delegates and only four years later won a State Senate seat where he served for the next decade. After an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1996, he was elected as Secretary of State in 2000 and then went on to win the Governor’s seat four years later.
It was during his time as governor that his dedication to miners’ safety, better environmental practices by the mining industry, and the impact of the industry on the people of the state emerged as some of his primary concerns. They remain major issues with Manchin today.
He served two terms as Governor of West Virginia before making a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 upon the death of Senator Robert Byrd. He won that special election and then again in 2012 and 2018.
He is periodically criticized by some of his fellow Democrats for voting with Republicans on certain issues. This has given him a reputation as a more conservative Democrat, but the Senator describes himself as “as centrist as a senator can get”. This may not be as accurate as it seems since some governmental analysis groups have found that the Senator has voted in favor of President Donald Trump’s policies (Republican) more than 70% of the time.
At his official website, Senator Manchin indicates that his priorities are in line with the values of his fellow West Virginians, “family, common sense, fairness and hard work…the importance of serving the public…his philosophy of ‘retail government — in other words, connecting with all of his constituents and making service to them his top priority.”
He indicates that ideology or politics do not impede the commonsense solutions available to him, and it is only by “putting politics aside and working hard to bring people together can we do what is right for West Virginia and the nation.”
He also indicates that the issues or priorities he views as the most important, include:
- Appropriations – He serves on committees that enable him to ensure that his home state obtains the right amount of “funding for infrastructure projects, community healthcare centers, economic development,” and more.
- Education – With his belief that education is essential to success, the Senator focuses on many different initiatives for students at all ages
- Energy – West Virginia is the second largest coal producing state and the Senator works hard to ensure that it is a well-supported industry
- Healthcare – Believing that good, affordable healthcare is the right of all Americans, he stands for replacing the system without repealing what is in place. He believes in healthcare reform that expands access.
- Jobs and Infrastructure – Rebuilding the U.S. and re-investing in infrastructure projects rate highly on his priorities.
- Intelligence – Preventing foreign attacks on American democracy as well as any other democracy in the world is not a political issue to the Senator and he indicates that he is eager to work in a bipartisan way to safeguard the nation and its way of life.
- Opioids – West Virginia has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic and this ranks as Senator Manchin’s biggest priority where he works with bipartisan lawmakers to create bills designed to support addicts and help all Americans get what they need to overcome opioid addiction.
- Seniors – Social Security, Medicare and quality of life are issues he emphasizes for the seniors in his state and the U.S. in general.
- Veterans – A high number of active and retired service members choose West Virginia as their home and the Senator strives to find healthcare access and better employment opportunities for all U.S. veterans.
It is fair to say that Senator Manchin keeps himself busy. As noted, it is only by looking at his stated priorities and key issues alongside his background in politics that a clearer portrait emerges. We also have to take into consideration his Committee and Subcommittee assignments for the 116th Congress, and whether he is involved in any non-legislative caucuses or committees.
Why? What he does on and off the senate floor will better illustrate any undue influence and explain why he has selected the different pieces of legislation to sponsor or co-sponsor during the current Congress.
Senator Joe Manchin’s Committee Work
For the 116th Congress, Senator Joe Manchin is a member of the following Senate Committees:
- Committee on Appropriations
- Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
- Subcommittee on Homeland Security
- Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
- Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
- Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
- Subcommittee on Energy
- Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining
- Subcommittee on Water and Power
- Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee
- Committee on Armed Services
The Senator is very clear that he has chosen his work on the various committees and subcommittees for specific reasons. For example, on his work on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, he says he will “fight for a commonsense, balanced energy approach that recognizes West Virginia’s critical role in our nation’s energy future and helps us achieve energy independence within a generation.”
For his participation in the Committee on Appropriations, he indicates that he will “continue to drive entrepreneurship and innovation in the Mountain State and across the country. He will work to ensure that federal agencies are making smart investments with taxpayer dollars in the needs of rural communities, ranging from transportation and communications infrastructure to programs that address opioid abuse and grow small businesses in West Virginia.”
So, the interests he is addressing through such efforts are for the people of his state. The same may be said of the few caucuses he belongs to, which currently only includes the Airport Authority, Marion County.
Of course, the goal is to identify if there are any undue influences, and for clarity on that we have to see just where those influences would originate, i.e. his campaign funders. We’ll begin with a very broad look at the industries in which the senator may have received the most support, then which industries were his greatest donors and, lastly, the specific firms that sent the largest amounts.
The Top Industries Funding Senator Joe Manchin’s Campaign Efforts
According the Open Secrets Website, Senator Manchin was a NOT a top recipient from any of the major industries during the 2018 campaign cycle. Although he was not even one of the ranking favorites in any of the industries, he did obtain a large measure of his support from specific areas of industry, and they are (in ranking order):
- Securities & Investment
- Lawyers and Law Firms
- Leadership PACs
- Real Estate
- Electric Utilities
- Health Professionals
- Oil and Gas
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
- Telecom Services
- Commercial Banks
- Miscellaneous Finance
- Non-Profit Institutions
- Business Services
- Electronics Manufacturing and Equipment
This is not enough information to determine undue influence, however. To begin honing in on any warning signs means assessing the greatest individual donors. Note that the entities in the list below did not donate directly to the campaign but worked with PACs or had direct employee contributions. For 2018, Senator Manchin’s greatest contributions came from:
- Capital Group – One of America’s oldest and largest financial services companies
- Mylan Inc – Global specialty and generic pharmaceuticals companies
- Goldman Sachs – A leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm
- Capital Group Companies – One of America’s oldest and largest financial services companies
- Steptoe & Johnson – International law firm based in Washington D.C.
- Wexford Capital – Major investment advisory firm
- NorPAC – A “bipartisan, multi-candidate political action committee (PAC) working to strengthen the United States–Israel relationship”
- Wilson, Sonsini et al – U.S. law firm specializing in business, securities, and intellectual property law
- Comcast Corp – American telecommunications firm
- Paul, Weiss et al – National law firm with more than 1,000 lawyers
This list of major donors touches on several of the Senator’s expressed areas of interest, including healthcare and foreign relations. They don’t precisely align with his established issues, but to be clear about the ways those donors may or may not influence the Senator’s actions means looking at the legislative work he’s done thus far in the 116th Congress.
5 of Senator Joe Manchin’s Bills for the 116th Congress – To Date
Two months, or so, into the 116th Congress, Senator Manchin had sponsored and/or cosponsored 51 pieces of legislation. Eight of them he introduced to the Senate and sponsored himself, the remainder he supported via co-sponsorship.
As noted, many senators found themselves supporting or creating legislation relating directly to the government shutdown. The following items (below) are those items that Senator Manchin co-sponsored and which have to do with alleviating issues associated with the shutdown or even attempting to bring it to a close, prevent another in the future, and so on: They are, in order of oldest to newest:
- 21Pay Our Coast Guard Act
- 24Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019
- 39 No Budget, No Pay Act
- 162Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act of 2019
- 165Federal Unemployment Compensation Equality Act of 2019
- 204 Emergency Relief for Federal Workers Act of 2019
- 270Paycheck Fairness Act
The Senator has also expressed that jobs are a major issue on his agenda and the first bill he cosponsored during the 116th Congress relates to the protection of the cigar manufacturing industry and the jobs it provides. S.9 Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2019 aims at preventing changes to the status of tobacco laws to harm America’s thriving cigar industry.
His commitment to the environment was also a fixture early in this Congress as the Senator showed his support for the bipartisan S.47 Natural Resources Management Act that has passed both the Senate and the House, as of this writing. In line with this was also his support of several other bills relating directly to the environment, including:
- 94 Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act
- 382 Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission in Cervidae Study Act
- 383 USE IT Act
- 407 Carbon Capture Modernization Act
- 500 A bill to amend title 54, United States Code, to establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, and for other purposes.
- 638 A bill to require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, Liability Act of 1980, and for other purposes
- J.Res.9 A joint resolution calling on the United States and Congress to take immediate action to address the challenge of climate change
Just as the items introduced, and supported by the Senator, relating to the government shutdown were varied and unique, so too are those above. For instance, carbon capture investments and initiatives relate somewhat to the resolution to take action on climate change. However, studying diseases affecting wildlife populations, ensuring National Parks are up to date on maintenance, and updating EPA regulations are all unique issues.
By supporting them, the Senator does not seem to be showing any undue influence as each of the issues relates to environmental protections and America’s role in improving its own lands as well as global well-being. Some could even be said to be in conflict with major industrial firms in his state.
Well-being, as noted, is also a huge part of Senator Manchin’s focus, and in addition to the items he has sponsored (which we’ll look at shortly), he has also put his name to a long list of healthcare initiatives, including:
- 62 Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act of 2019
- 73 End Taxpayer Subsidies for Drug Ads Act
- 97 Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act
- 106 Community Health Investment, Modernization, and Excellence Act of 2019
- 304 Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act of 2019
- 516 A bill to require the use of prescription drug monitoring programs
If we consider that the Senator has at least one major backer in the form of a pharmaceutical company, influence would be obvious in any steps taken to reduce limits on such firms or to prevent stronger protocols and laws. However, as we will soon discover, that is not what he is doing. Additionally, in the items he has supported (above) we see that he seeks to cut finding to drug makers, allow imports from foreign manufacturers, and more. Again, this is the opposite of acting on pressures from financial backers.
Senator Manchin also indicated that veterans are a huge priority, and he has backed that up by throwing his support towards the following legislation aimed at benefiting veterans and their families:
- 164 TRICARE Reserve Improvement Act
- 221 Department of Veterans Affairs Provider Accountability Act
- Res.68 A resolution designating April 5, 2019, as “Gold Star Wives Day”
- Res.69 A resolution designating March 29, 2019, as “Vietnam Veterans Day”
- 622 A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to repeal the requirement for reduction of survivor annuities under the Survivor Benefit Plan by veterans’ dependency and indemnity compensation, and for other purposes
In addition to all of this, he has shown his support for education throughS.Res.33 A resolution supporting the contributions of Catholic schools, the impressive S.303 GEAR UP for Success Act of 2019, S.379 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to permit amounts paid for programs to obtain a recognized postsecondary credential or a license to be treated as qualified higher education expenses for purposes of a 529 account, S.430 A bill to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 and the S.Res.79 A resolution supporting the goals and ideals of Career and Technical Education Month.
In the list of other legislation, he has supported we see his name on bills and resolutions aimed at supporting same-sex marriage, giving Congressional Gold Medals to several Americans, weapons laws, the Future Farmers of America Organization, and improving Homeland Security, among others.
In all, we see a balanced set of actions, but as we have noted all along, it requires a close review of the specific pieces of legislation the Senator himself has supported and introduced to see where his priorities lie.
Let’s look at five of them specifically, here.
Brought to the Senate floor on January 3, 2019 by Senator Manchin, it is cosponsored by six other Democratic senators, including Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, Sherrod Brown from Ohio, Doug Jones from Alabama and Bob Casey from Pennsylvania.
The bill is designed, according to Senator Manchin’s press release about it, to “secure our nation’s retired miners pensions by:
1) shoring up the 1974 Pension Plan which is headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis,
2) ensuring that the miners who are at risk due to 2018 coal company bankruptcies will not lose their healthcare, and
3) extending the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund tax at $1.10 per ton of underground-mined coal and $0.55 per ton of surface-mined coal for ten years. This tax is critical for supporting the Black Lung Disability Trust fund, which provides healthcare and benefits to more than 25,000 miners and their dependents.”
It is an amendment to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 and will result in a transfer of funds necessary to protect any pension plans from insolvency.
As Senator Manchin explained on introducing the bill, “Our coal miners made a commitment to provide our nation with the energy we needed to power our nation to prosperity. They did so time and time again even when it risked their health and their lives. It is our turn now to keep our promise to them and ensure that we secure their hard earned pensions and their promised healthcare and black lung benefits. We cannot continue to allow these solutions to be put off again and again. Our retirees and their widows deserve better than that. For these retired miners, their pensions and healthcare benefits are the difference between paying their mortgage or being kicked out of their home, it’s the difference between putting food on their tables or going hungry.”
This bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
This bicameral legislation (H.Res.6 and H.Res.14) has already passed in the House, and it is a “rule that will let the new Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, go to court to defend the Affordable Care Act.”
Will it pass in the Senate where the Republican majority holds sway? That is impossible to know. When introduced, Senator Manchin stated that he sought to defend the constitutionality of pre-existing condition protections, saying “I joined my colleagues in reintroducing this resolution so that the Senate has the opportunity to defend Americans and West Virginians with pre-existing conditions in this inhumane lawsuit. This misguided ruling will put millions of Americans and tens of thousands of West Virginians at risk of losing their health insurance. And the thousands of West Virginians who gained health insurance through the Medicaid expansion will no longer qualify. This ruling is just plain wrong. This ruling is yet another example of why the Senate must come together to pass bipartisan legislation that makes commonsense fixes to our current system. Protecting West Virginians’ healthcare has always been my top priority and I will continue to fight for every West Virginian’s access to quality, affordable health insurance.”
This is directly in line with previous statements and steps the Senator has taken and even his clearly-held belief that reform is needed, but that the system that exists must not be overturned in order to make reforms happen.
The need for the legislation came about when the U.S. Department of Justice did not defend the Affordable Care Act. As Senator Manchin said after reintroducing the bill, “It’s alarming that the Department of Justice decided to abandon its obligation to defend the law and the constitutionality of protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The loss of these protections would be devastating in West Virginia, where nearly 40% of our residents have a pre-existing condition. We cannot go back to a time where insurance companies played God.”
One of the most debated issues in the Affordable Care Act or Obama Care was that insurance companies could no longer deny coverage for or offer higher prices to those with pre-existing conditions. By eliminating this, it enables insurers to once again target, deny or heavily penalize those who struggle with health issues.
Senator Manchin is one of several current senators who asks for stories from his constituents relating to specific issues. He has done so on this specific healthcare issue, as well as on the opioid crisis. He often reads these stories on the Senate floor as he introduces or argues in favor for or against other items.
On February 7, 2019, the Senator shared a great deal of information of this kind as he introduced a handful of bills in what might be described as a “blitz” or an individual war on the opioid crisis in the U.S., but also West Virginia in particular.
Bringing six bills to the Senate in a single day, he explained that “West Virginia is ground zero of the opioid epidemic and I have been working to make sure that we have the right tools to fight this crisis. These bills will give people more chances to get help and to not be haunted for the rest of their lives by a criminal record. People suffering with addiction are not bad people and deserve a second chance. Other bills will make sure we are continuing to take steps to fight this crisis, ensuring that new people don’t become addicted to these horrible drugs. I hope that my colleagues, both Democrat and Republican will help all Americans battling addiction and help pass these bills into law.”
The bills, which we have divided into a few logical categories include:
The FDA Specific Bills:
- 417 Changing the Culture of the FDA Act – If passed, this bill would adjust the FDA’s (Federal Drug Administration) mission to “include the agency’s responsibility for addressing the public health impact of the opioid epidemic. To date, the FDA has failed to consider the devastating public health impact of their repeated decisions to approve dangerously addictive opioids.
- 418 FDA Accountability for Public Safety Act – This bill ensures that the FDA would need the support of an “advisory committee before approving any new opioid and requires the agency to provide a report to Congress if it approves an opioid against the advice of that committee.” Failing to do so would block the release of any new drugs.
- 419 Protecting Americans from Dangerous Opioids Act – Another FDA-related bill, it would force the agency to remove approval for one existing opioid treatment for each new medication approved.
The Law-Focused Bill
- 424 DEA Enforcement and Authority Act of 2019 – This bill seeks to restore the DEA’s power to enforce our nation’s drug laws by making the critical changes requested by the Department of Justice to the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which passed in 2016.
The Budgetary Bill
- 425 Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act – Also known as the LifeBOAT Act it establishes funding to provide and/or “expand substance abuse treatment through the existing Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant”.
Also released that day, the S.423 Clean Start Act will “allow people with a federal felony or misdemeanor conviction for a past nonviolent crime committed as a result of drug addiction an opportunity to have their criminal record sealed after undergoing comprehensive addiction treatment and demonstrating a commitment to their recovery.”
So, we cheated a bit and looked at more than five of the bills supported by the Senator to uncover signs of influence. Yet, what we see is that he has stuck to the issues and priorities he has repeatedly claimed – the best interests of West Virginians and the people of the U.S.
In late 2018, Senator Manchin was up for re-election and was deemed by many the most “endangered Democrat in the Senate” because of his party affiliation in a state like West Virginia.
As one article explained, “Two years ago, when Donald Trump was elected president, Manchin was considered instantly the most endangered Senate Democrat in the country. Donald Trump, after all, won West Virginia by 42.2 points, his largest margin of victory with the exception of Wyoming,” and yet Manchin won re-election easily.
How and why? As that same article continued, “To maintain his preeminent political standing, Manchin has performed an increasingly perilous ‘high-wire act,’ …And the last two years were the most challenging yet. He tight-roped by voting against Trump’s tax cut and the GOP’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act while also voting pro-Trump more than any other Democrat—from the president’s cabinet picks to both of his Supreme Court nominees. He was the lone Democrat to vote for Brett Kavanaugh, a decision that enraged his left-leaning constituents. But that vote also robbed his opponent of a potentially lethal line of attack, letting Manchin campaign as a bipartisan, practically anti-partisan option…He doesn’t campaign as a Democrat. He campaigns as Joe Manchin.”
That is how he has such a diverse base of support, with centrists from both sides of the aisle, conservatives from both parties, avid Trump supporters and a blend of liberals and progressives, as well.
He repeats often that he doesn’t continue in politics to win elections but to do the work he feels most suited to do, i.e. to fight for West Virginians. If we are looking for signs of influence from financial backers, it can be difficult to find with Manchin.
As one expert noted, “Manchin justified his vote against the Trump tax cut by arguing it would add to a soaring budget deficit and benefit corporations and the wealthy rather than middle- and lower-middle-class West Virginians. Explaining his vote against the ACA repeal attempt, he stressed the outsized importance to West Virginians of Medicaid expansion and coverage for those with preexisting conditions.”
He did, however, vote for all but four of Trump’s cabinet choices (and was one of only three Democrats who gave a greenlight to Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court nominee). He is solidly in support of Second Amendment rights and spoke of them often during his last campaign. He is a pro-life Catholic, but “expressed opposition during a debate to an especially stringent proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution.”
And though Senator Manchin had long had an A rating from the National Rifle Association, after he drafted and introduced a bipartisan background check bill in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, he was dropped to a solid D. Yet, he is still outspoken on Second Amendment rights and repeatedly says that no one will take his guns.
However, of the $9.4 million in lobbying done by the NRA during the 2018 election cycle it is unlikely that much went into his campaign’s coffers. This alone demonstrates that he does not act in a way meant to nurture financial backing or please previous supporters
So, Senator Joe Manchin III is a bit of an enigma where political strategy, personal feelings, and maintaining his office are concerned, but it seems as if he always votes with the people of West Virginia in mind rather than any financial backers.