Monday, January 3, 2022

Manchin Making Moves


Reverend Barber, left, and some West Virginians outside the Hart Building, 14 December, demanding Manchin's cooperation on the Biden agenda, Build Back Better and voting rights. Photo by Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, via The Nation, whose headline was "West Virginians Give Manchin a Lump of Coal for Christmas".

Got any New Year optimism? 

I'm pretty cheered by this Axios report

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is open to reengaging on the climate and child care provisions in President Biden's Build Back Better agenda if the White House removes the enhanced child tax credit from the $1.75 trillion package — or dramatically lowers the income caps for eligible families, people familiar with the matter tell Axios

assuming it's Manchin himself, directly or indirectly, who engineered the story, anxious to get his name back in the mouths of the panditry as soon as possible, which would mean it's probably true.

The bargaining chip he seems to be pushing back onto the table is the one I've been recommending on and off as the best way to buy him off: cutting some of the wealthier recipients off from receiving the enhanced child tax credit, which in its current form is getting fully paid to households with an income of up to $150,000 (approximately the bottom 90%), but only half that for single-parent households, which is nuts. 

Because I'm kind of receptive to one of the points Manchin might be making on this: advocates love telling us that the expanded CTC reduces childhood poverty by something like 50%, an unarguably worthy goal (a lot less than 100%, of course, but infinitely more than zero), but it does that by giving an awful lot of cash to people who are far from poor. I dislike this, as you know, because I think it maintains and even increases economic inequality (while the poor are using the money to stay where they are, treading water, the well-off can invest the money, rising higher). At best, it's just really inefficient, and at worst, it's a bad political error.

The political error is Yangism: the belief that a making a benefits program universal builds a base of support for it among the voters who don't need it—politicians can fight poverty by bribing the better off. Thus, we're told, the truly popular social insurance programs of the 20th century, Social Security and Medicare (nobody ever complains about the non-universality of unemployment insurance and workman's compensation, but conservatives do attack the former successfully in death-by-a-thousand-cuts fashion). 

The problem is there's a direct connection between the universality and the inadequacy of the programs for the people they were intended for. Retired workers really can't live on the monthly Social Security check unless they have some other resources, a genuine pension plan or retirement account, and they're driven to abusive expedients like reverse mortgages, or totally impoverishing themselves to qualify for the non-universal SSI. Medicare, too, is mostly inadequate if you don't have the money to buy a Part D Advantage plan to pay for drugs, forcing poorer seniors to apply for non-universal Medicaid or ration their medications.

But as we began seeing in October, the expanded child tax credit just hasn't come close to developing that kind of constituency among the better off voters. A majority at that point, according to a Morning Consult poll, opposed making it permanent—just 52% of Democrats supported that—and few thought it was having a major impact on their lives, in particular suburbanites, self-described independents and moderates (Republicans actually valued it significantly more than independents), and people with incomes well above the median. By December, an NPR/Marist poll found people even less impressed: some respondents seem not to have been aware they were even getting the payments, and

Even among those who did recall receiving the tax credit, two-thirds said it only helped a little and 1 in 5 said it didn't help at all.

Those with incomes below the median also tended to say it was only having a minor impact, by the way, possibly because it was true—a program designed to lift half the poor kids out of poverty leaves half of them behind. This could be hugely alleviated by the childcare and early childhood education programs in the BBB.

Anyway, the moral is that Yangism doesn't work, politically; the bribery targets just don't care, other than the fundamentally libertarian bros, who are distinctly in the minority. That's why Yang never wins an election. This was true in the New Deal as well: everybody talks about Social Security, but when Gallup polled the programs in 1939, the most loved agency was the not-at-all-universal WPA, founded 1935, which provided infrastructure, art, and 8.5 million jobs for the underemployed over the course of its existence. 

I would hope in the revived BBB there'd be a fully funded monthly-paid child tax credit of $3,000 per child ($3,600 for kids under five) per year for household incomes up to something like $100,000 (that covers around 75% of the population), regardless of the number of parents, plus the childcare and pre-K programs, and the green energy programs providing millions of jobs. 

That's what West Virginians—moms and United Mine Workers alike—seem to want, as The Times was indicating yesterday, 

“It’s going to be hard next month, and just thinking about it, it really makes me want to bite my nails to the quick,” said Anna Lara, a mother of two young children in Huntington, W.Va. “Honestly, it’s going to be scary. It’s going to be hard going back to not having it.”

and that's in the region where Senator Manchin seems to have started to settle during his Christmas vacation. This thing is absolutely not over yet.

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