There won’t be a government shutdown this weekend, because Sen. Joe Manchin decided to take his ball and go home, after weeks of petulant pity-parties in which he complained that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were opposing his bill just because they don’t like him.
The most controversial part of the “Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023,” the funding bill that’s going to keep the government running until mid-December, was Manchin’s proposal to make the permitting process for energy development projects faster and easier, generally by sidestepping or accelerating environmental reviews and blocking lawsuits against them. Oh, and forcing the government to intervene to make a problematic pipeline in West Virginia happen.
It seems that Manchin, in his arrogant assumption that he is the one in charge in the Senate, stepped too far out of line with that one. He drew the fiery opposition of a fellow Democrat in the neighboring state of Virginia. “I strongly oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline provision of this legislation, which would greenlight this pipeline without normal administrative and judicial review and ignore the voices of Virginians,” Sen. Tim Kaine said before a procedural vote on the bill Tuesday.
“If the [Mountain Valley Pipeline] owners are unhappy with a court ruling, they should do what other litigants do and appeal. Allowing them to fundamentally change federal law to achieve their goal would surely encourage other wealthy people and companies to try the same. I won’t participate in opening that door to abuse and even corruption,” Kaine said. That’s not an out-and-out accusation against Manchin for being corrupt, but it’s as close as we’re going to get in the Senate and it’s about damned time. About 100 miles of the pipeline goes through Virginia, and Manchin didn’t even bother to consult with Kaine about the bill.
Manchin was kind of right about how this was all about him—it was for Republicans who have been wanting to gut the permitting process for fossil fuel projects forever. They just didn’t want him to get the win for it. They wouldn’t even work with him, instead going all-Republican with a bill from his Republican West Virginia cohort, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. This was Mitch McConnell making the decision to forego creating a big fight between Senate and House Democrats (the House hated this provision) and sending Democrats into disarray over shutting down the government. Instead, he decided instead to humiliate Manchin.
So Manchin pulled his bill out of the CR with a peevish statement blaming everyone who hates him and basically telling all his colleagues they were helping Putin. Literally. He said that “a failed vote on something as critical as comprehensive permitting reform only serves to embolden leaders like Putin who wish to see America fail.”
That doesn’t mean Manchin and his bad idea are going away. By pulling it from the CR, he keeps it alive for the future. He might try to attach it to other must-pass legislation coming months. Since Republicans were happy to kill it this time around, Democrats as a whole were accepting—if not truly supportive—of the effort. The experience might be enough to make Manchin actually play nice with them and make some changes to the bill that actually would be helpful for alternative energy projects. Or not, so we’re going to have to keep an eye on Manchin.
The stop-gap funding bill has $12.4 billion in aid to Ukraine, $4.5 billion in natural disaster relief, $1 billion for the home-heating program for low-income people, and $20 million for Jackson, Mississippi, to help fix the water crisis. What it doesn’t have is any money for COVID-19 or monkeypox. That might be revisited come December and the next funding bill, depending on how bad COVID infections and deaths are this fall. Or it might not, since everyone in power seems to have been reconciled to the idea of 400 people dying every day from COVID.
The funding bill passed the first procedural hurdle in the Senate, 72-23, and is on track to be finished in the Senate and House, possibly even in time for everyone to not have to come to the Capitol on Friday. They hate being there on Fridays.
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