Talking Points

Manchin's vile reported reason for killing the Biden agenda

Over the weekend, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) apparently blew up President Biden's Build Back Better agenda with comments on Fox News. On Monday, HuffPost reported one reason is his skepticism of the expanded child tax credit (CTC), which has been going to people with no labor income — that is, the poorest people — for the first time. "In recent months, Manchin has told several of his fellow Democrats that he thought parents would waste monthly child tax credit payments on drugs instead of providing for their children," write Tara Golshan and Arthur Delaney.

There are two big problems here. First is that Manchin's reported expectation is false. A study using Census data found a plurality of West Virginia CTC recipients (43 percent) primarily used the money to pay down debt. Another 20 percent mostly saved it, and the 37 percent who mostly spent it put the money toward necessities like food, clothing, housing, and child care.

But a more fundamental problem is Manchin's ideological double standard. While most West Virginians receiving the CTC spent it on debt reduction or family needs, undoubtedly a few did spend it on drugs. But that's also true of ordinary paychecks, and we don't use that as a reason to deny people access to their income. Ending the expanded CTC on this rationale deprives millions of people who are totally innocent of drug use — including the children it is most intended to help — while doing little or nothing to change American drug use rates.

If Manchin, a longtime drug warrior, wants to tackle drugs, he should work on drug policy instead of starving poor people. But his present approach makes sense if you've bought into capitalist desert ideology, which holds that workers are personally responsible for their wages in a way that welfare recipients are not. By this view, it's fine for workers (and rich people who collect dividends) to get normal money, but welfare should either take the form of heavily restricted benefit programs, like food stamps, or be slashed to nothing at all.

In reality, poverty is overwhelmingly caused by people not being able to work, which is about half the population at any given time. The welfare state can eradicate poverty by distributing income to all non-workers — or Manchin can falsely smear poor people as degenerate drug addicts and protect rich people (like himself, incidentally) from higher taxes.