I’m a West Virginia farmer, and I know something about timing and deadlines. If my spring broccoli isn’t planted in the greenhouse by February — and growing uncovered by May — forget it. It’ll be a long summer, fall and cold winter before I can try again.
So, when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., tells me he’s open to passing major legislation by July — legislation that will help families like mine — I believe him. We’re hurting from rising energy prices, prescription drug costs, out-of-work and sick miners and — most important for me — an unstable climate that could doom my farm.
And like planting spring crops, the “anti-inflation budget reconciliation” bill Manchin is discussing on Capitol Hill — a bill that needs unanimous Democrat support in the Senate — will either pass that chamber now or we will wait the long political winter of a decade or so before we have another real opportunity.
My farm can’t survive that long. We’re struggling to cope with record heat and freakish storms now. We lost much of our crops to a biblical hailstorm in 2019, and we live in terror of another returning. Ironically, we started farming for a living seven years ago only after my husband lost his job at a West Virginia ski resort because of a lack of snow.
The reconciliation bill Democrats are eying would include $550 billion in climate and justice spending to boost electric vehicles, deploy wind and solar power, fund adaptation, expand access to clean water and more. Manchin repeatedly has said he supports this spending. For us, anything that can help slow the rate of warming while making a Ford F-150 electric pickup truck more affordable — well that’s a big deal.
Meanwhile, my twin brothers, former Marines, work physically punishing jobs in the local coal and oil industries. Both know their work contributes to climate change. Both would rather build wind turbines in West Virginia or install solar panels.
But we also need a “just transition” into this clean energy era. Which is why many of our West Virginia coal miners have been all but begging Manchin to support funding — included in the reconciliation talks — that would encourage new manufacturing jobs for former miners and facilitate health care for miners suffering from black lung. Those sick miners certainly can’t wait a decade.
And it’s not just the miners. My parents — approaching 70 — spend a giant share of their income on prescription drugs. Meanwhile, diabetes runs through my extended family. Capping insulin shots at $35 will, by itself, transform lives here. Manchin says he supports lowering drug prices through the reconciliation bill. I hope he means it.
These measures fight inflation — a big concern here in West Virginia. My neighbors raise cattle and sell ground beef. It’s gone from $4.99 to $8.99 per pound in a year. And the only coffee shop near us, in Marlinton, doesn’t even post its prices. Why bother? There’s a new price every day.
Lowering our drug costs alone will help us pay all the rest of our bills. And investments in solar power and electric transportation will help shield us from fossil fuel shocks, like the war in Ukraine.
And if Manchin wants to go further on inflation — using budget reconciliation revenue to partially pay down the national debt — I’m OK with that. A grand bargain that fully fights higher prices while simultaneously and concretely investing in the lives of people like me — that’s a reasonable bargain.
But only if it actually happens.
Which brings us back to the deadline. Either this bill gets done by the Senate’s August recess or it just won’t get done. For another decade or so, climate change will get worse and farms like mine will die. People will get sicker and they will die, too. Our economy will be beaten up by higher prices, hastening nancial decline for everyone in states like West Virginia.
So this is it. It’s now or never. With pressure from Manchin, Congress has kicked this budget reconciliation bill down the road for over a year now, while shrinking its social spending scope. At roughly a trillion dollars now, it can’t grow smaller. And we can’t kick it down the road again.
Since the president’s State of the Union speech on March 1, Manchin has said he wants a bill with all the things my family needs — help on climate, prescription drugs and in ation.
As we enter this last summer of hope, I’ll go back to tending to my broccoli and other crops while hoping Manchin finally creates the better world my children will always remember him for.
Holly Bradley is a farmer in Pocahontas County and an organizer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.