President Joe Biden will be representing the U.S. at the global climate summit in Glasgow beginning Sunday, where he will have to explain to all the world leaders that while the majority of American people want to take action to eliminate carbon emissions, one member of his own party is thwarting his—and the whole country’s—will. Around 60% of Americans think the pace of global warming is accelerating, and 55% want Congress to pass legislation to transition electricity generation to clean processes, away from gas and coal-fired plants, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.
While Biden is preparing for the summit, Sen. Joe Manchin is moving more goalposts for the big social, climate, and economic agenda Biden and the Democrats in Congress are trying to complete. Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, had already succeeded in stripping the most effective climate provision in the package. The Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) would have rewarded utilities for making the transition and penalize those that don’t. That’s out. Then on Monday, news broke that Manchin was also demanding that the proposal to impose a methane fee on U.S. oil and gas producers has to be stripped. That would be penalizing the industry for pumping the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere and Manchin is opposed. His colleagues are now scrambling to find a compromise, which will probably involve giving the industry money: “providing $700 million in funding that would be rebated to oil and gas producers to help them comply with the fee,” according to a Washington Post source.
While Manchin is intent on giving more money to the climate-destroying fossil fuel industry, he also came out Monday telling the press that he will not agree to spending money to make life and health better for his—or anyone else’s—constituents. Right out of the gate Monday, Manchin contradicted reports from the White House and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that talks with Biden, Schumer, and Manchin on Sunday were productive and that Manchin was moving off of this $1.5 trillion cap for the package and they were considering as much as $2 trillion. Nope, he said. It’s $1.5, and by the way, that shouldn’t include Medicare and Medicaid expansion.
“I'm concerned about an awful lot of things,” Manchin told reporters. Those things aren’t how much carbon the industry that funds him is pouring into the atmosphere, or how much he wants to reward them for doing so. No, he’s concerned about pinching social services pennies—he doesn’t want any of those undeserving people feeling like they should have health care or something.
For example, he doesn’t want a federal solution to the problem of 2 million Americans not being able to get on Medicaid because their Republican lawmakers won’t allow it. A number of Democrats—including Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock who has to defend his seat next year and who ran in part on Medicaid expansion—want to find a solution for these people, to go over the heads of the Republican governors and legislators who have been denying them care for nine years.
Manchin doesn’t want this fix: “The problem that I have with that one right now, we're paying 90/10. So 10 percent is being paid by all the states. For states that held out and be rewarded 100 percent is not fair," Manchin said. Because he can’t comprehend that providing coverage to 2 million people isn’t the goal, isn’t a good thing. Isn’t a thing that could also help Warnock win reelection.
“He’s raised some concerns and I think I’ve answered them,” Warnock said Monday. “Some are saying that it is unfair to people in the expansion states. I think what’s unfair is for the people of Georgia to be paying for health care that they can’t access.” Warnock might have answered those concerns, but that’s not a guarantee Manchin actually listened.
Manchin’s other “big concern right now” is expanding Medicare services to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage. “Medicare and Social Security is a lifeline to people back in West Virginia, most people around the country,” he told reporters. “You’ve got to stabilize that first before you look at basically expansion so if you’re not being fiscally responsible that’s really concerning.” Those are also things that could be relatively easily fixed, for example by Medicare being allowed to negotiate drug prices and save billions. That’s being opposed by fellow Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Bob Menendez, so Manchin isn’t the only villain on that front.
Meanwhile, House leadership has been leaning hard on progressives to swallow whatever Manchin will allow in the package. “Embrace this,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly told them in a Monday evening meeting. “And have a narrative of success.”
“If we don’t act like we are winning, the American people won’t believe it either,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told them. Act like you’re winning, even though everything Biden and you promised to bring them in the last election isn’t going to be delivered. Sure.
Progressives are holding out to the degree they can. Washington State Rep. Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CNN’s Manu Raju that her group still wants this bill and the bipartisan hard infrastructure bill to pass together because, basically, you can’t trust Manchin and Sinema.
That said, the fight will be making sure that the two bills are voted on together and that Manchin and Sinema don’t pull the rug out from under them, because they’re prepared to get whatever they can get out of the larger bill.
“The vast majority of our priorities are in, but there are a couple of areas where that’s still not the case,” Jayapal told reporters Monday night. “What we’ll continue to do is push as hard as we can, but just recognize that there are 50 senators and we have no margin in the Senate.” She added the caveat, “Nobody should take progressive votes for granted.”