Unlikely alliance resists Manchin-Schumer energy deal, putting government funding bill on shaky ground
A deal cut to secure the support of Sen. Joe Manchin for the Democrats’ controversial Inflation Reduction Act is now creating problems for another major issue looming over Congress: Funding the government to avoid a shutdown by month’s end.
As he vowed to support the sweeping health care and energy bill this summer, Manchin won assurances from top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to advance a plan that would expedite the permitting and environmental review process for energy projects — including a major pipeline that would cross through his state of West Virginia. Schumer has vowed to include the White House-backed deal in legislation to keep government agencies afloat beyond September 30.
But an unlikely alliance is forming between progressives alarmed at the deal’s potential environmental impact and Senate Republicans still livid that Manchin cast the vote that ensured the health care and energy bill’s enactment into law. Now the GOP is in no mood to give Manchin a win he would undoubtedly tout ahead of a difficult 2024 reelection bid, as they criticize the proposed deal as too meager.
“There are going to be folks who have concerns about loading the Manchin provision onto the CR as part of what a lot of our folks believe is a backroom deal that was cut with the Democrats a long time ago,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, referring to the continuing resolution, or CR, to fund federal agencies.
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking GOP member on the Appropriations Committee, called the Manchin-Schumer deal “raw politics” and stopped just short of saying he would oppose the stop-gap measure if the deal is included in there.
“It bothers a lot of people on the left because it’s against what they believe in terms of the environment,” Shelby said. “And on the right, [people believe] it’s a raw political deal. What will happen? I don’t know.”
The growing opposition has thrown into question whether the stop-gap measure has the votes to pass both chambers by month’s end, as some in Schumer’s caucus are telling leadership that permitting changes should be tackled outside of a spending bill or oppose the effort altogether.
But Schumer vowed on Tuesday to include the plan in the continuing resolution.
“I’m going to add it to the CR and it will pass,” Schumer said flatly, characterizing the permitting measure as part of Democrats already passed climate and health care bill.
Manchin downplayed the GOP threats.
“It’s all about the country — security we need, and energy security,” Manchin told CNN when asked about Republican comments. “I think they’ll rise above that. I really do.”
The Senate may attempt to pass the bill first, so long as 10 GOP senators support the measure. A Senate Democratic aide said the hope is Democrats in the House will eventually back the bill if it’s first passed by the Senate — given there will be a more imminent deadline to avoid a shutdown — and since House Democrats have yet to explicitly say they won’t vote for the bill if the plan is included.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, told CNN on Tuesday that “I personally don’t support adding” the permitting plan to the funding bill.
But she added: “We certainly are not shutting the government down.”
A controversial pipeline
The Manchin-Schumer deal also includes incentives for one of Manchin’s pet projects: the Mountain Valley pipeline, a long-delayed natural gas pipeline that would cross through West Virginia and Virginia if completed.
The pipeline has been successfully challenged in court for years; the permitting deal would essentially fast-track it. The agreement includes language that would “require the relevant agencies to take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation” of the pipeline and give the DC Circuit jurisdiction over any future lawsuits.
That has raised eyebrows among Democrats including Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who said he’s expressed his concerns about the pipeline’s impacts on his state to Manchin. Kaine told CNN he also wants to tackle permitting reform outside of the spending bill.
Other Democrats have expressed similar sentiments — especially in the House, where more than 75 have co-signed a letter to House leadership in opposition to attaching it to the stop-gap measure, expressing frustration both over the contents of the deal and that fact they’ve had very little input on it.
“We don’t like it. We didn’t agree to it,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CNN on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, most Senate Republicans are backing a different permitting bill crafted by Manchin’s West Virginia colleague, Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. Several Republicans also told CNN they think permitting should not be included in a must-pass spending bill.
Sen. John Barrasso, a member of GOP leadership who is also the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on Tuesday railed against Manchin, the panel’s chairman, over the deal he cut with Schumer.
“We have Joe Manchin trying to hide behind a fig leaf of an agreement he made with Chuck Schumer,” the Wyoming Republican said Tuesday.
“I would say to my friend Joe Manchin, who is the chairman of the Energy Committee, what they’re celebrating today at the White House is the damage you have already done by passing this reckless bill. You voted for it, and if you’re now looking for Republicans to support and give you more cover than you have right now, you’re not going to find it with us.”
A new political landscape
House progressives are angry both by the substance of Manchin and Schumer’s deal and how it came together.
While the bill text is still being written, the original deal contained several provisions to streamline environmental permitting for major energy projects, including two-year maximum environmental reviews through the National Environmental Policy Act.
While Manchin has had maximum leverage in past congressional negotiations, the tables have turned. House Democrats already got the climate and health care bill they wanted in the Inflation Reduction Act, and many are feeling little pressure to cave to Manchin’s new demands without putting up a fight.
“It’s the worst conceivable process, it’s no process at all,” Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California told CNN. Huffman said he’d be open to a narrow deal to speed up permitting for clean energy projects, but he’s suspicious of anything that could advance fossil fuel projects or gut existing environmental permitting laws.
“If [Manchin’s] complaining about how environmental laws have stood in the way of some of his favorite pipelines and fossil fuel projects, there’s a reason for that,” Huffman said. “I think we are trying to speak really clearly in support of a clean CR. It’s hard to accept a clean CR for everyone except Joe Manchin.”
Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders stopped short of calling on House progressives to vote against a stop-gap spending bill if permitting reform is attached.
“I’m gratified to see that many dozens of them understand that the world’s on fire,” Sanders, a Vermont independent, told CNN. “I hope very much in one way or another that provision is removed.”
Jayapal said that House progressives are open to discussing other ways of passing permitting reform — as long as they get a say in how it’s written. She floated attaching a proposal to the annual defense policy bill later in the year.
“It would give a chance for some input for House members to really grapple with what is the right permitting reform here,” Jayapal said.
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