I’ve always been fascinated by how politicians change their view when a family member is involved.
Their job, as professionals, is to weigh the evidence and arguments on all sides of an issue and reach a conclusion. Of course, we all know it doesn’t work in the civics-textbook way when lobbyists, donors and powerful special-interest groups are involved.
But how many times has an officeholder pushed for more funding to eradicate a disease that happened to strike a relative? Or softened or changed a position on same-sex marriage after learning that a son or daughter is gay?
The latest case in point is Sen. Joe Manchin. But the West Virginia Democrat finds himself in the uncomfortable position of opposing what his own daughter did.
Manchin’s daughter is Heather Bresch, the CEO of a generic drug firm called Mylan that makes big bucks from Medicare and Medicaid.
Last week, the company announced that it was renouncing its status as an American company and would be incorporated in the Netherlands. In other words, it would still be a U.S. company and milk the U.S. market, but avoid a whole lot of taxes.
While this is part of a trend, it seems like an outrage to me. But New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin practically praised her, reporting: “Ms. Bresch says she entered the deal reluctantly, and she genuinely seems to mean it.”
The headline on his Dealbook piece: “Reluctantly, Patriot Flees Homeland for Greener Tax Pastures.”
National Journal’s Ron Fournier unloaded on Manchin, and the Democratic lawmaker didn’t like that. Of course, it might have been better if Manchin had returned Fournier’s call rather than complaining after the fact.
Manchin told Fournier he’d be happy to support a bill that outlawed the 30-year-old “inversion” loophole that allows U.S. firms to avoid federal taxes by incorporating elsewhere.
"I think, basically, inversion should be absolutely repealed," Manchin said. "All of them. Get 'em all, Ron. Get 'em all." Manchin insisted, though it sounds far-fetched, that his daughter didn’t tell him of the decision until after the fact..
Says Fournier: “His answers were often disjointed. In short, Manchin struck me as a convenient convert. He is worried that his daughter's business decision, while in accord with the laws passed by Manchin and his colleagues, will hurt his politics.”
I don’t think it’s fair to blame a senator for a business decision by his adult daughter. And Manchin is, at least nominally, taking the right position.
But why don’t the media raise hell about this loophole? Maybe business reporters just accept it as, well, business as usual. The most indignation that Sorkin could muster was to say that there’s “something morally disconcerting” about the move.
Like it or not, the senator’s daughter is now the symbol of a horrible policy. And sometimes it takes symbols to rouse the media into action.