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Joe Manchin stumps for Rep. Golden to help win over independent Maine voters

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, campaigns with Maine Congressman Jared Golden, a Democrat running for reelection.
Office of Rep. Jared Golden
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, campaigns with Maine Congressman Jared Golden, a Democrat running for reelection.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Wednesday defended Democratic 2nd District Congressman Jared Golden's vote last month for a sweeping bill that lowers prescription drug costs, combats climate change and raises taxes on some billion-dollar corporations.

Manchin's appearance in a joint press call with Golden comes as the Maine congressman faces a new barrage of attacks as he seeks a third term in a hotly contested race.

The Inflation Reduction Act spends roughly $430 billion on climate, energy and health care initiatives while raising roughly $737 billion in revenue via a 15% corporate minimum tax and anticipated savings from prescription drug pricing overhauls and tax enforcement.

Republicans, including Golden's opponent Bruce Poliquin, have framed it as another massive spending initiative that will burden Americans as they are relentlessly hounded by the law's addition of 87,000 new IRS agents.

But Manchin says most of the provisions in the new law were born out of bipartisan talks on other legislation, with one exception: the minimum corporate tax.

"That's the reason it's not bipartisan," he said. "Every word in this bill is bipartisan except they [Republicans] didn't want to pay for it by making the wealthiest corporations … and that's corporations that have a billion dollars of booked income for three years. A billion dollars!"

Manchin's emphasis on the bipartisan genesis of the bill's framework is no accident.

He and Golden represent Republican-heavy constituencies, but they've won elections because their political brands are fashioned around their independence.

It's one reason GOP attempts to link Golden to Democratic President Joe Biden and other leaders have largely faltered.

Golden was the only Democrat in Congress to oppose his party's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan last year, and he and Manchin helped tank Biden's sprawling Build Back Better domestic spending plan.

But the GOP sees an opening in both Democrats' support of the Inflation Reduction Act.

"Jared Golden promised he'd be an independent fighter against Biden's spending, but then cast a deciding vote for Biden's newest spending bill," claims the narrator on a newly released ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund.

That ad is one of many attempting to influence voters in the 2nd District race between Golden, Poliquin and independent Tiffany Bond.

Other attacks have homed in on the addition of IRS agents, which Manchin said was originally a Republican idea that emerged from negotiations over a separate infrastructure bill that passed with bipartisan support.

Manchin says the GOP has described the agents in ominous ways, but that the bill includes provisions that will confine tax audits to those making more than $400,000 a year.

"They made you think back in West Virginia you got 80,000 people with machine guns coming after you," he said. "The craziest thing I've ever heard. It tells you how desperate when you have a good piece of legislation, you've got to find something. And to hang your hat on that and scare the bejesus out of people is just so un-American."

Golden called the GOP attacks a flat-out lie and said the additional IRS agents will actually modernize the agency and help Maine tax filers.

"I don't know how many constituents we're trying to help get their tax returns done so they can get a check back from the government that they're owed," he said. "Like [Manchin] said, the customer service sucks. We can't get them on the line. And investing in getting them [the IRS] into the 21st Century is going to increase their efficiency so that our constituents are going to get better service."

The joint press briefing was billed as a fact check against GOP attacks, but Manchin also made it clear that he was there to support Golden, who he described as a ballast in an increasingly partisan Congress.

If "people like Jared Golden" aren't sent "back to Washington, we're really going to have a problem in the House because we need the balance," he said.

And that just happens to be one of Golden's main arguments for reelection.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.