Joe Manchin is doing what Joe Manchin does best: Provide an obstacle. This time it’s the stopgap funding bill that needs to pass by midnight Friday or the government shuts down versus his push to get Congress to intervene in a private sector project and make it happen. That’s the main part of the energy project permitting bill he’s trying to shove through. In general, the bill would streamline the permitting process for all sorts of projects: transmission lines, water quality permits, and hydrogen energy and mining.
The bill has scant Democratic support, at least publicly, and no Republican support. House leadership seems lukewarm at best about having it included in this spending bill after around 80 House Democrats—including five committee chairs—wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing including it in this funding bill, suggesting the bill be handled separately. The question about the bill now is whether Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is just humoring Manchin by insisting that it will be included in the bill, or is he trying to jam the House into taking it?
Schumer made a deal on the legislation with Manchin weeks ago, negotiating on the Inflation Reduction Act, which included some big climate initiatives. Schumer’s promise that this proposal would be included in the stopgap funding bill was key to getting Manchin’s support. The difficulty for them both is that no one else was in on that agreement. Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer indicated that they generally support considering the idea, but that they made no commitment as to when it would be considered.
We're not going to do better than Manchin in West Virginia. But we can render him and his fellow obstructionist Kyrsten Sinema obsolete come November. Help us win a true Democratic majority.
Manchin finally released the bill text late last week after weeks of talking about it to reporters in the halls of the Capitol, writing op-eds, and going on TV. You know, being Manchin. He had a solo press conference/pity party early last week even before the text was out, complaining about how everyone is opposed to his idea just because it’s his. He wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend begging for support from both sides. He took that opportunity to attack Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their “radical agenda,” maybe thinking that that would make Republicans like him more.
It didn’t work. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is now actively whipping against it, possibly because he’s mad at Manchin. That makes it really unlikely that Manchin will find the dozen or more Republican votes he’s going to need to succeed.
He’s going to be hard pressed to get Democrats as well, even the not-radical ones. For example, his neighbor Tim Kaine who says Manchin never consulted him about the bill and the fast-track forcing of permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia and Kaine’s state of Virginia. Kaine is clearly angry about that since some 100 miles of the pipeline would be in his state, but not making ultimatums over it yet.
“All I have said is, I am deeply opposed to the MVP provision and frankly, I think it would open a door that we do not want to open,” Kaine said on Thursday. “I’m not a threat-style person. Let me tell you where I am. Let me tell you what I think about this. Can we solve it?”
He’s right on the pipeline provision—it could set a dangerous precedent. “It’s just really bad public policy to basically break out a single project and say, ‘You’re going to be exempt,’” James Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law, told Roll Call recently. “That’s just horrible public policy.” Another law professor, Pat Parenteau at the Vermont Law School, said it would be “highly unusual and maybe unprecedented” for Congress to intervene to force the approval of the private sector project.
Kaine told Roll Call: “My constituents in Virginia have complained significantly about workmanship problems in the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” He added that state agencies have intervened to stop work on the project because of water pollution it’s caused. “I am not opposed to the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” he said. “I don’t think Congress should be in the business of approving pipelines or rejecting them.”
It appears as of now that the Senate is going to act first on the funding bill, then send it to the House where they’ll fast track it. As of now, it seems that Manchin’s bill is going to be an amendment to the continuing resolution, which means it will need 60 votes to break a filibuster, and it almost certainly won’t.
If that’s the case—if Manchin can’t get enough Republicans to make up for the Democrats he is surely going to lose on this—then the effort needs to end there. Schumer can tell Manchin he did what he promised and gave him a vote. Any effort to do more to appease Manchin right now would be disastrous, pitting Democrats against each other and the House against the Senate. It’s been bad enough already, but throwing in the threat of a government shutdown mere weeks ahead of the election would be a big mistake.