Joe Manchin, Grover Norquist, and the Economic Consensus of #ThisTown

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 18 2014 12:59 PM

Joe Manchin, Grover Norquist, and the Economic Consensus of #ThisTown

106461899-democratic-u-s-senate-candidate-and-west-virginia
Joe Manchin is ready to uppercut entitlement spending.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last night I joined a group of hacks, economists, bankers, politicians, and intellectuals for a dinner preceding the Atlantic's annual Economy Summit. These things are perks/curses for the longtime D.C. reporter—free dinner, stimulating conversation, some gritting of teeth as people ask you why both parties can't just come together and pass a long-term economic revival plan to help America beat China. It's interesting to pull your head up from the trough of daily politics and meet people who can't believe how stupid and nasty it's all become.

Happily, this year's dinner included an actual politician—West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin—and was kept on the record. Manchin was separated by only one seat from Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, who used his time to deliver short remarks about how, since 2011, the stock market had behaved the same whether Congress was in or out of session (this was new), and how Republican-run states were providing real-time policy experiments, and proving his side right.

Advertisement

"What about California?" snapped one columnist. "California's got a balanced budget."

"Right, but look where people are moving," responded Norquist.

So, the kind of event where that response ended the exchange. It had been a while since I'd seen Manchin riff on fiscal policy, and he was exactly what the room wanted—a Democrat deeply concerned with long-term debt and ready to cut entitlement spending.

"Republicans and Democrats can't even agree on the definition of revenue," he said. "What I would do, in a heartbeat, is I would change Social Security completely. I would do it on an inflationary basis, as far as paying into payroll taxes, and change that, to keep us stabalized as far as cash flow. I'd do COLAs—I'd talk about COLA for 250 percent of poverty guidelines."

The macroeconomist Peter Morici interrupted Manchin. "You basically cut benefits to old people?" he asked.

"No, a rich old person, you won't get the COLAs," said Manchin. "Do you want chained CPI? I can live with either one."

Manchin stayed through the whole dinner, and hung out afterward, as a spokesman made sure nothing untoward happened. Toward the end, the senator turned to Norquist and pressured him to go easy on Republicans who might, theoretically, cut a deal that increased revenue dynamically. The tax cut icon was unmoved.

"In 2015," he said, "Sen. McConnell and Sen. Schumer will get something done." I.e., Democrats would lose control of the Senate and Republicans would force a deal.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 20 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Red Planet and the Comet
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.