Last month, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined “Why I Won’t Support Spending Another $3.5 Trillion,” writing that “by significantly reducing the size of any possible reconciliation bill to only what America can afford and needs to spend, we can and will build a better and stronger nation for all our families.”

This past week — at the height of a three-way budget showdown between filibustering Republicans and the competing wings of the Democratic Party over the debt limit, an infrastructure bill and a larger budget bill — Manchin issued a statement saying “the amount we spend now must be balanced with what we need and can afford.” On Thursday, he said he would allow the United States to spend $1.5 trillion for the budget on top of a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package that he already voted for in the Senate. (Though in January he reportedly said “Spend $2, $3, $4 trillion over a 10-year period on infrastructure.”) Explaining his resistance to a larger budget package, Manchin also vowed: “I cannot accept our economy, or basically our society, moving toward an entitlement mentality.” None of these statements singles out a specific program as too expensive. All of them evince hand-wringing over inflation and debt.

His statements match a written understanding from July between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), reported by Politico. And it’s fair for any senator to express concern about levels of taxing, borrowing and spending. But Manchin’s arguments don’t square with his state’s place in the perpetual size-of-government debate: He talks like a provider carefully husbanding revenue, even though he represents West Virginia, a state that gets more from the federal government than it gives in tax receipts.

Manchin talks like a maker. His state is a taker.

According to a 2021 report from SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government, in fiscal year 2019, West Virginia received $2.15 in federal spending for every dollar of federal taxes its taxpayers paid. Year after year, West Virginia is on lists of states that take more money out of the federal coffers than they put in. There are certainly reasons for it: Overall deficit spending makes it possible for many states to get more than they give. As ALEC’s Skip Estes wrote last year, with progressive taxation, “the federal income tax levies higher rates on filers with higher incomes,” who are often in wealthier states such as California and New York.

It makes sense that as the 50th Democratic vote in an evenly divided senate, Manchin guards his power to bend legislation toward his priorities. Though West Virginia’s governor and its other U.S. senator are Republicans — and Donald Trump won the state by a huge margin in 2020 — maybe West Virginians are shrewd to keep one Democratic senator, ensuring they have an outsize say in both parties’ Senate caucuses. You can agree with Manchin that spending has to be limited and cutting the Democrats’ proposed budget is the place to start.

But because Manchin’s is a taker state, it’s hard not to see his budget stance as a pose. His recent statements don’t acknowledge that his state is being carried, to a degree, by some of the richer states — Connecticut, New Jersey — whose mostly Democratic-leaning voters are inclined to a more robust budget. It’s true that as a senator, he’s a trustee for the fiscal decision-making of the whole nation. But Manchin, who speaks specifically for West Virginia’s voters, decries deficits while his constituents benefit from them.

Without a willingness to publicly address this disconnect, Manchin’s position suggests that West Virginians, especially, deserve the government largesse they receive, while the same largesse is undeserved elsewhere. He scrambles the maker-taker debate that ramped up so dramatically during the last few presidencies: In the tea party’s heyday, its animating ethos (or, at least, its openly expressed ethos) was that makers were tired of footing the bill for government services that mostly went to takers — a sentiment that came to a fruition of sorts with Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” speech.

Congressional Democrats can still work out a budget compromise, but they can’t pass anything Manchin won’t vote for. He’s made the case for curbs such as means testing, arguing that it’s a way to enact or keep programs while spending less overall. He’s said his stance shouldn’t surprise anyone, since he’s “never been a liberal in any way, shape or the form.”

Manchin’s statements are (mostly) consistent — depending on your view, maybe they’re right — but philosophically, coming from a state such as his, his position isn’t coherent.