By: Kathleen Stoll
February 9, 2022
I voted for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., when he was reelected in 2018.
Manchin won’t be up for reelection again until 2024, if he chooses to run. Cross my heart, I am going to remember Valentine’s Day 2022 when the time to vote comes around again.
I am not a political insider. I work with nonprofit groups that fight for affordable health care for lower-income families and support programs to give all kids a fair chance at a decent life. I don’t read every election analysis or follow the electoral chin-wagging. I don’t tune into the political talking heads on Sunday morning TV.
But I care deeply about what happens in Washington, because I believe it can make a huge difference — that what happens in Congress can help or hinder the average working person as they confront economic challenges.
Professionally, I work with any Democrat or Republican who wants to advance policies to help lower-income families. I believe that affordable health care and prescription drugs, educational opportunities and food and housing security are fertile ground to grow bipartisan solutions.
I had the privilege to work in D.C. with a bipartisan table of “strange bedfellows” to pass the Affordable Care Act — an imperfect piece of legislation that can be improved — nonetheless, one that cut the number of uninsured West Virginians in half, from 14% to 6.7%. For many West Virginians, access to an expanded Medicaid program and to more affordable private health insurance is lifesaving.
Manchin voted for the Affordable Care Act and stood up for the law when it was later attacked by Republicans in Congress. For this, I am grateful.
Now, let me take off my professional hats and speak as just one West Virginia voter.
Despite his ACA support, I face a dilemma. I don’t know if I will be able to bring myself to vote for Joe Manchin again. I know all the arguments about the need to keep the slim Democrat majority in the Senate, that the alternatives are “worse” by the measure of policies I care about. I was making calls back in 2018 insisting, “Vote for Joe — you gotta do it.”
But, ultimately, my vote is about sending to Washington someone who my heart trusts to pass laws that serve principles of social and economic justice, that advance health equity, that lift up our kids, that create new economic opportunities for lower-wage working folks.
When Manchin stopped the Build Back Better Act dead in its tracks in December, I felt betrayal and heartache. My friends, my neighbors, my family, my community would have benefited greatly from BBB.
I have shared some of the individual stories in op-eds in this paper. These people — working and raising families — sent Manchin to those marbled halls in Washington to fight for more affordable health insurance and prescription drugs, and for help meeting the many costs of being a good parent. West Virginians put their hearts into doing the best they can for their families, and Manchin must do the same.
Without the money to make big campaign contributions, my vote is my only political power. And, collectively, all our votes are and always will be the ultimate political power. How can I enter the voting booth and reward power to a man who turns his back on West Virginia families?
Unlike 2018, I don’t expect that suggesting “no to Joe” will result in a rash of angry phone calls from my friends and colleagues. My heartache over Manchin killing the Build Back Better legislative package is not mine alone; it cuts deep across the state.
I keep hoping that Manchin will pull up a chair to the legislative negotiations table, that he will use his considerable skills and leverage to salvage key provisions of Build Back Better.
And that package of key provisions need not be called Build Back Better. If that name has too much political baggage, then frigging rename it. Remember when Prince, back in 1993, changed his name to a symbol? Of course, I would suggest that a heart is an appropriate symbol for “the bill formerly known as the BBB.”
Manchin should deliver that as the best Valentine possible to West Virginia families.
Kathleen Stoll serves as the policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.