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Manchin Threatens to Withhold Vote on Increasing Debt Limit

There’s no question that Joe Manchin will be a thorn in the side of the White House and national Democrats for the next two years and possibly longer. He won his election running away from the Democratic Party – even though he received more help from liberal writers, who did much to define his opponent John Raese as a heartless tycoon, than anyone else – and he has settled into the same role in the Senate. What’s more, he’s up for re-election again in 2012, because he’s just filling out Robert Byrd’s term at the moment. So the same pressures to break with the party, especially because Barack Obama is not well-liked in West Virginia, remain.

And so you have someone caucusing with Democrats who announces his refusal to raise the debt limit.

Freshman Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will not vote to raise the debt ceiling this spring unless it’s tied to a long-term deficit reduction plan, he’ll say Monday in a speech.

Manchin, a centrist Democrat who’s expected to face a tough reelection challenge in 2012, will join some conservative Republicans in demanding that fiscal reforms accompany any vote to allow the government to borrow more money.

“We must get our fiscal house in order. We must be honest about what we value and what we need to spend your taxpayer dollars on — not what just sounds good,” Manchin will say, according to prepared excerpts released by his office.

“That is why I will vote against raising the debt ceiling unless the vote is linked to a real budget plan that begins to fix our fiscal mess,” the Democrat will explain. “We cannot make budgets based on the next election; they must be based on the next generation.”

I don’t think this makes the prospect of a government default any more likely, but it does help Republicans with their claim that austerity has bipartisan backing, and makes it impossible to claim that the GOP is hijacking the debt limit for their own personal priorities.

This speech is part of a week-long home tour in West Virginia. I think everyone expected the deficit peacock stuff, but this takes it to a new level:

Manchin has also “gone rogue” in his efforts to get reelected, meeting with Senate Republican leaders to discourage them from pouring cash into his 2012 race and hinting that he might not vote for Obama next year.

Exactly what is he promising Senate Republicans in exchange for them not playing in West Virginia next year? Inquiring minds want to know.

Despite all of this, despite straying from the party line pretty much as a given, despite meeting with Senate Republicans in backroom meetings on his re-election, there’s no question that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will spend millions of dollars to try and get Manchin re-elected. And that money will come from top donors to the DSCC and also individual liberals who unthinkingly hand over cash to a party apparatus who then gives it to politicians who will gladly vote against their interests and concerns. I don’t know who’s the bigger dupe in that scenario.

…incidentally, after watching The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia last night, I guess I sympathize with any statewide official trying to represent that state.

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David Dayen

David Dayen