Senate

Schumer in tough spot over Manchin promise

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday pledged to add permitting reform legislation to a stopgap funding bill that would prevent a government shutdown, but he’s in a tough spot as he seeks to deliver on a promise to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

The permitting reform is a side-deal Schumer struck with Manchin in late July to pass a climate, tax and health care bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is projected to help reduce that nation’s carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

Manchin offered his support for the bill in July after winning significant concessions, and his vote allowed Democrats to pass a major achievement for President Biden.

Schumer made clear Wednesday that he doesn’t plan to backtrack on his promise.

“Permitting reform is part of the IRA and we will get it done,” Schumer said Wednesday. “Our intention is to add it to the CR.”

But that plan is running into opposition from progressive House Democrats and outside environmental groups. There’s also a chance that several Senate Democrats may balk at the deal with Manchin, now that they no longer need his vote to pass a budget reconciliation bill. 

Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) office told The Hill on Wednesday that 50 lawmakers had signed onto his letter calling for a separate vote on the permitting reform provisions instead of putting them in the continuing resolution.

Attaching it to a short-term government funding measure would force House progressives to choose between voting no and possibly forcing a shutdown or voting yes and making it easier to develop new energy projects that would burn fossil fuels and pump more carbon into the atmosphere. 

Many environmental groups are also up in arms over the deal. 

More than 650 such organizations sent a letter to Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressing their opposition last month. 

“This fossil fuel wish list is a cruel and direct attack on environmental justice communities and the climate. This legislation would truncate and hollow-out the environmental review process, weaken Tribal consultations, and make it far harder for frontline communities to have their voices heard by gutting bedrock protections in the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act,” they wrote.  

Some Senate Democrats also said they couldn’t say whether they would support a short-term government funding bill that includes permitting reform until they review the details of the bill. 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said he wants to know what the net impact on carbon emissions will be from passing both the Inflation Reduction Act and the permitting reform package. 

“‘Are we helping to solve the climate problem?’ is the question,” Whitehouse said. “I don’t even know what the permitting reform is.”  

And while many Republicans also support the types of reforms Manchin supports, several GOP senators on Wednesday panned Manchin’s proposal for not going far enough. 

“It seems pretty weak to me. I want to see how they have it written up but I hear it sounds pretty weak —  ineffective,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has said that he would oppose such a measure on principle, calling it part of a “political payback scheme.”

There is doubt over whether the government funding measure combined with permitting reform could pass the House, given the growing opposition from progressive House Democrats. 

“I like the idea of permitting reform. So, I’ll certainly keep an open mind,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill on Wednesday. But he also said he’d be “surprised” if Manchin “gets what was promised.”

“I know there were progressives over in the House that don’t like the idea. They swallowed the reconciliation bill, but it’s going to be an interesting process to watch,” he said, adding jokingly that “this may be a Lucy and the football moment” for Manchin. 

Schumer could find a way around the jam by also adding to the government funding measure a bill to codify marriage equality. That could make it more difficult for House liberals to vote no, but it would also threaten Republican support for the package in the Senate. 

Schumer says his preference is to bring the marriage equality bill to the Senate floor separately. 

“We would prefer to do it as a separate bill. We hope there are ten Republicans to help us with that,” he said Wednesday. 

A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators met earlier in the day in an effort to put together a deal on marriage equality legislation that could muster 60 votes in the Senate to overcome an expected GOP filibuster. 

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wis), one of the lead Democratic negotiators on the marriage bill, said she also wants to keep it separate from the short-term government funding bill. 

Baldwin said Wednesday that she’s close to getting the 10 Republican votes she needs. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the bill’s cosponsors, told reporters on Wednesday the talks are making progress. 

“I’m never confident until a roll call. But we’re making good progress. It’s a lot of sincere interest,” Collins said.

Collins’ comments came after she and Baldwin penned an opinion piece published in The Washington Post addressing “mischaracterizations” about the bill’s scope, including the idea that it would “legalize or recognize polygamous relationships or marriages.” 

Some Democrats are hesitant to sign onto the idea linking the marriage bill and the government funding package, though they won’t rule out the proposal if it helps them get both priorities passed by the end of the month. 

“I’m for the art of the possible,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), said. “If it makes it easier to pass it we should do it that way. If it makes it harder to pass it we shouldn’t.”

“This is gaining, slowly in the Senate, bipartisan support,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said, referring to the marriage equality bill. “I’m hopeful that we can get it done whatever the vehicle.”

Some Republican leaders are insisting on a clean funding package, potentially punting a separate vote on the marriage equality bill until after the coming midterm elections. 

Collins and Baldwin have also pushed against using the funding bill as a vehicle for their bill, though they would like to see a vote before the November election.

Despite opposition in the House, there is support among some climate hawks in the Senate to add Manchin’s permitting proposal to the government funding bill. They argue that it will bolster the deployment of clean energy. 

“We are going to have to build big, planet-saving projects and the environmental movement has been organized around stopping things from being built and although that continues to be an important aspect of being an environmentalist, now we need to think about building projects that will save the planet,” Schatz said. 

But if enough liberals opposing the plan flex their muscles in the House, it’s not guaranteed the funding bill would get enough Republican votes to make it to Biden’s desk. 

By attaching both permitting reform and marriage equality legislation to the CR, Schumer could shift blame to Republicans opposing the same-sex marriage measure. 

Otherwise, progressives Democrats will have to swallow permitting reforms that will make it easier to build new energy projects and tougher for environmental activists to slow them down. 

“My guess is, if it’s on our CR, they’re gonna have to eat it if they don’t like it,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said on the issue. “Or wrap their arms around it if they do.”

Tags Biden Charles Schumer Climate change Government shutdown Inflation Reduction Act Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Raul Grijalva Tammy Baldwin
See all Hill.TV See all Video