Joe Manchin's Election Cycle Transformation From Big Spender to Fiscal Hawk Begins

With reelection year approaching, West Virginia Democrat trashes trillion-dollar climate bill he himself orchestrated

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) (Getty Images)
April 26, 2023

With West Virginia's Joe Manchin staring down a difficult reelection year, the Senate Democrat is positioning himself as a critic of President Joe Biden's spending—by trashing the trillion-dollar climate bill that Manchin himself orchestrated.

During a Monday night Fox News appearance, Manchin attacked Biden for working to "liberalize" the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats' massive climate spending bill that Manchin vocally supported. For Manchin—who is considered the bill's "chief architect" after he secretly negotiated its terms last summer—Biden is implementing the legislation in a way that will be more expensive than promised. A March Goldman Sachs report, for example, says the bill's green energy subsidies will cost $1.2 trillion, more than three times the official government forecast. Manchin is so frustrated with the ballooning cost, he said Monday, that he would go as far as to "vote to repeal [his] own bill." 

Manchin's threat—which comes as the Democrat contemplates whether he'll run for reelection next year in a state former president Donald Trump won twice by an average of 41 points—is almost certainly a hollow one. Even if a repeal bill passed Congress before 2025, a near-impossible task given Democrats' Senate majority, Biden would have veto power over the measure.

Manchin's criticism of the bill is a swift turnaround from just two months ago, when the Democrat heaped praise on the legislation and said he did not regret voting for it "at all." "The Inflation Reduction Act will be the most transformative bill that we've ever had in the United States, in Congress, as far as I've been here," Manchin said in February.

Manchin has a history of taking liberal positions in the buildup to a tough race, only to swear off those positions when Election Day approaches. In July 2017, the Democrat repeatedly said he was against building a wall on the Mexican border. "I'm not for building a wall at all," Manchin said in one interview. "It's something I have no interest in," he said in another. One year later, when a conservative group ran an ad highlighting those comments, Manchin demanded the ad be taken down and called it a "flat out lie" that he opposed the wall. Manchin in 2018 also said he regretted supporting Hillary Clinton for president and would consider backing Trump in 2020. Two years later, Manchin threw his support behind Biden.

Manchin says he will not announce his political future until December. He is considered the only Democrat capable of winning statewide next year in West Virginia, a state that voted for Trump by a whopping 42 and 39 points in 2016 and 2020, respectively. Should Manchin run for reelection, he will immediately become a top target for Senate Republicans as they work to flip the upper chamber, and Manchin's Inflation Reduction Act support is expected to be a primary point of attack.

"It's bizarre to watch Joe Manchin trip over himself to deny what we all know: He wrote Joe Biden's so-called Inflation Reduction Act and was the sole reason it passed," National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Tate Mitchell told the Washington Free Beacon. "This is quite the election-year turnaround for an unpopular, soon-to-be former senator."

Manchin's office pointed the Free Beacon to two of the Democrat's past statements but did not comment further. 

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) appears to be in on the game of distancing Manchin from the massive Inflation Reduction Act. Duty and Honor, a nonprofit affiliated with Schumer, is running a new ad that calls Manchin a "leader in Washington who actually cares about controlling spending."

Manchin not only helped orchestrate the Inflation Reduction Act. The Democrat also says he has no regrets about his 2021 vote for the $1.9 trillion pandemic spending package because Biden "needed it."

"The president needed it. That was his first shot out of the box," Manchin told Huffpost. "I gave [my vote] because the president wanted it." Manchin's vote helped pass legislation that caused 2.5 percentage points of inflation, according to an estimate from Harvard professor and former Obama administration economic adviser Jason Furman.

Manchin was long skeptical of Biden's climate bill but warmed up to the legislation following a lobbying push from a surprising source: Bill Gates. The billionaire, along with Schumer, last summer led an aggressive effort to convince Manchin to support hundreds of billions of dollars in climate spending, an effort that ended with Biden signing the Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022. Manchin stood beside Biden during the bill signing, with the president handing Manchin the pen he used to sign the legislation.

In the following months, companies that Gates holds stakes in reaped the benefits of the bill's climate spending. Biden's Energy Department this year has awarded nearly $3 billion in loans to two electric battery companies that are backed by seed funding from Gates. The taxpayer funds came from the department's Loan Programs Office, which the Inflation Reduction Act flooded with hundreds of billions of dollars. Another green energy company that Gates invests in, Form Energy, announced in December a plan to build a battery manufacturing facility in Manchin's West Virginia, a move Manchin said would not have happened without the Inflation Reduction Act.

Manchin, the former governor of West Virginia, is currently the only Democrat elected to a statewide office. Should he run for Senate, Manchin would likely face either West Virginia Republican congressman Alex Mooney or the state's GOP governor, Jim Justice, who is expected to enter the race Thursday.