Blair Campbell: What is Manchin waiting for? (Opinion)

Every time I buy groceries for my elderly neighbor, I think of Joe Manchin, my U.S. Senator.

My neighbor has had multiple back surgeries over the years here in rural Pocahontas County. She lives in pain and discomfort, and requires lots of prescription drugs. But as the cost of those drugs skyrocket every year, I’ve noticed the weekly grocery list she hands me gets shorter and shorter. She’s eating less food to pay for her meds.

There’s a bill under consideration in Washington that would lower the cost of drugs for people like my neighbor. The only problem, apparently, is getting Joe Manchin’s vote. Forty-nine other U.S. Senators say they’re ready to vote yes. And Joe Manchin says he supports this legislation, which would lower prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with the big pharmaceutical companies. But months and months have gone by and still no bill has passed. 

What is Manchin waiting for? 

I’m no expert on political intrigue in Washington, but here’s what I know. That policy to reform prescription drug prices is bound up in something called a “budget reconciliation” bill. That bill would not only address prescription drugs, it would lower the rate of inflation across the economy while addressing another problem we’re seeing more and more of here in this part of West Virginia: climate change.

On inflation, don’t get me started. My husband’s a union electrician and I work part time helping hospice patients while raising two middle schoolers. We’re cutting back on expensive meats and eating more from garden plots. And like most rural Americans, gas at $5 a gallon is killing us with the long drives we have to make daily.

Energy fuel prices are driving inflation, rising 20% since last year. I think it’s silly to blame President Joe Biden for high gas prices. His powers are limited here. To tame inflation – and tame our changing weather patterns, to boot – we need Congressional legislation to transition away from the pricey oil and gas that a foreign dictator can manipulate with a war or two.

West Virginians are proudly self-reliant and we care deeply about our mountains and farms. Given half a chance, we could produce much of our energy from wind and solar farms while powering those electric Ford F-150 pickups everyone seems to want.

That budget bill on Capitol Hill would invest strongly in wind and solar projects. It has a special provision to help West Virginia actually manufacture the windmill blades and solar panels here. It would also drop the cost of an electric car or a Ford F-150 Lightning.

Again, forty-nine U.S. Senators have said they are ready to vote for all this. Through tax changes and savings on drug costs, the bill would generate about $1.1 trillion in federal revenue. Roughly half of that money would be used to pay down the federal deficit, another big way to fight inflation. The other half — $550 billion – would be invested in alternative energy, including nuclear power and carbon capture technology for coal and gas plants, per Manchin’s wish.

But still, after a year of negotiations, no vote is scheduled in the US Senate because Joe Manchin hasn’t committed yet to this life-saving, economy-restoring, planet-protecting bill. What are you waiting for, Joe?

Here’s the truth: We’re almost out of time, especially on climate change. Our local elementary school has no air conditioners and now loses more and more school days each year due to heat waves no one has ever seen before. Meanwhile, I’m only 40 years old and have lived through three massive floods in my life, the last a “1000-year” deluge that took 23 lives in West Virginia in 2016.

Many people I know want to keep voting for Joe Manchin. But when they learn about this bill for prescription drugs and lower energy prices and a cleaner environment – they want him to vote for us.

No wonder so many of us this year have decided to mark West Virginia Day, this Monday, by traveling to Joe Manchin’s home town of Fairmont. We love this state and we’ll show it with a free barbeque and concert by the Appalachian jam rock band Fletcher’s Grove. 

Our message – through speeches and music and celebration – is simple: It’s time to vote Joe! Save our state and our elderly neighbors and our teetering economy with a vote for a better future.

Blair Campbell lives in Hillsboro, West Virginia.

Reprinted from the CHARLESTON GAZETTE-MAIL, June 16, 2022

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