Sen. Joe Manchin saved a big part of President Biden’s agenda.
He helped the Democrats pass a second partisan spending bill through the reconciliation process when it looked like time — and their House majority — was about to run out.
He even helped them rebrand the package as the Inflation Reduction Act, to at least rhetorically counter the spending’s inflationary effects.
In return, Biden betrayed him.
The West Virginia Democrat had two specific asks when he saved Biden’s bacon.
The first was that the bill’s $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit be structured in a way that promoted American manufacturing and didn’t subsidize the well-to-do.
The second was he wanted to revamp permitting rules to promote domestic energy production.
Manchin thought he had a deal.
He has since learned otherwise.
The Biden Treasury Department has made it easier for more electric vehicle purchases to qualify for the tax credit, even among the wealthy.
Meanwhile, the president’s team effectively loosened the made-in-America requirements after allied countries — including some with which the United States lacks standing free trade agreements — protested their ineligibility for the subsidies.
Treasury is attempting a few sleights of hand in writing the rules implementing the tax credit.
Just redefine the terms of free trade agreements to mean pretty much anything, and allow people who lease their electric vehicles to qualify for the tax credit, and you’ve gotten around what Manchin thought was in the Inflation Reduction Act.
To add insult to injury, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has informed Manchin and the wider world that the kind of sweeping oil and gas permitting reform West Virginia envisioned is dead.
Manchin will have to introduce his own bill after Schumer blocked the Republicans, but it will likely face similar obstacles — it goes too far for more liberal Democrats.
It’s the kind of disrespect the few surviving moderate Democrats have come to expect from Biden and their party.
Without Manchin, Democrats would not have controlled the Senate for the first two years of Biden’s presidency.
They would still be relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties (even if Schumer could get all of his conference to show up).
But the more liberal Democrats believe Manchin should represent their constituents, who hail from places like California, New York and Massachusetts, and the national party rather than the voters of West Virginia.
So when Manchin wants to tap the brakes on the liberal agenda out of respect for the electorate that sent him to Washington, it is viewed as a betrayal.
That’s why they don’t feel bad about deceiving him.
Unlike Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Manchin represents a state that twice voted for former President Donald Trump by 40 points.
It was Trump’s best state by a margin of victory in 2016 and his second-best in 2020.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) has already learned this lesson, registering as an independent after it became clear that progressives were going to try to run her out of office for her relatively small number of dissents.
So has North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham, whose party switch gave the GOP a veto-proof supermajority in her chamber of the Legislature.
Moderate Democrats know that in many cases, they will be treated worse than Republicans by members of their own party, even as they are relied on to pad Democratic majorities and defend the most competitive seats.
Despite his ideological shape-shifting over the years, Biden has a history of this behavior himself.
As vice president, he helped persuade moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to switch parties to briefly give Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority.
Specter was promptly discarded once the Democrats fell below 60 votes in the Senate a few months later, with the White House doing just the bare minimum to help him in the Democratic primary, which he ended up losing.
Republicans won the seat.
And that could ultimately be Manchin’s revenge as well.
Good luck finding any other Democrat who could even compete in West Virginia. Manchin is the last Democrat standing in the state’s federal delegation.
If Manchin loses or opts not to run for re-election, Democrats will not hold that seat again for a generation. And it could cost them the majority next year.
Was betraying one of their colleagues, driving up the debt, and causing sky-high inflation worth it?
W. James Antle III is politics editor of the Washington Examiner and author of “Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?”