House Democrats are gearing up for another fight with Sen. Joe Manchin, the guy who seems to have appointed himself to the role of pissing off fellow Democrats for the hell of it, or possibly for his own profit. What’s particularly frustrating for many of those Democrats is that leadership just keeps letting him do it, and expect them to accede to Manchin’s demands. After two bruising years of seeing critical climate and social investment plans whittled down by Manchin’s arrogant refusal to negotiate in good faith, they’re now expected to do it again.
In return for his support for the massive climate and health care legislation passed last month, Manchin secured a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and according to Manchin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for a separate bill to speed up energy project permits and especially kickstart a pipeline in his home state of West Virginia. The commitment was to have a vote on that before Sept. 30, which basically ensured it would be included in a must-pass spending bill to keep government open after that funding deadline.
A growing group of more than 70 House Democrats led by Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva are pressuring leadership to separate that permitting measure from the must-pass government funding bill, and they have some room to negotiate. Because it’s Manchin, the proposal leans heavily on the side of the fossil fuel industry, though it could presumably streamline renewable, clean energy projects as well. But as it stands now, Democrats are calling foul, and the House is blaming the Senate
“This is a tale of two houses,” said Rep. Jared Huffman of California about Schumer and Manchin’s agreement, calling it a “sleazy backroom deal.” On the Senate side, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the only member so far to officially oppose the deal.
Right now, it looks like leadership intends to jam House progressives. The Senate plans to vote first, possibly at the last minute that will allow the House to take it up and pass it before government funding runs out. That would pressure those House Democrats to swallow the deal, not wanting to be responsible for shutting down government. That’s how it looks now, 17 days before the deadline of when money for operating the government runs out.
There’s another wrinkle here, though, and that’s Republicans. Right now they seem more interested in punishing Manchin for his betrayal to them by allowing the big climate and health bill to pass than in screwing House Democrats. In order for his deal to pass Manchin needs 10 Republicans, and so far he doesn’t have them. In fact, he’s enlisted Big Oil lobbyists to try to talk Republicans into helping him, according to sources for Bloomberg News.
In fact, Manchin’s Republican colleague from West Virginia, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, has released her own version of a permitting bill before Manchin actually got his in legislative language. “Since our calls for action and offers to see legislative text from the permitting ‘deal’ remain unheeded, Republicans are introducing this legislation today to deliver solutions to the roadblocks, delays, and postponements of key infrastructure projects across the country,” Capito said Monday in a statement.
She’s got 42 GOP co-sponsors on that bill, which means Manchin would have to peel some of them away, even if he can secure the votes of the eight Republicans who aren’t co-sponsors.
While Manchin’s language hasn’t been released yet, the proposal would streamline environmental reviews for energy infrastructure. The goals he has talked about include establishing a two-year limit on permitting reviews for major projects, and one-year limits on smaller projects. He wants a statute of limitations for environmental court challenges to projects, and he wants the permits for the West Virginia Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline completed. He also wants to enhance the federal government’s authority over interstate electric transmission projects.
Capito’s bill doesn’t just require approval for that pipeline, it would give states authority over the federal public lands within their borders for energy development, and it would codify the rules the Trump administration used to try to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental effects of large construction projects.
Manchin tried to put a happy face on being preempted by his home-state colleague, telling Politico that it was “a show of bipartisan support for his ideas.”
Democrats have got 17 days to figure this all out—it’s the biggest obstacle (thus far) to getting the government funding bill done. With opposition in the House growing and Republicans looking less and less likely to help Manchin out, there’s plenty of room to negotiate this into a package Democrats could live with, one that boosts renewable projects and isn’t a giveaway to the fossil fuel industry. A lot of that will depend on Manchin, and how willing he is to shoulder the blame for a potential government shutdown.
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