Energy & Environment

Climate activists frustrated as another deadline passes without spending deal

Greg Nash

Climate advocates are frustrated that Democrats will miss yet another major deadline to pass a spending bill advancing environmental priorities. 

The apparent lack of progress ahead of Memorial Day further raises tensions between the left flank of the party’s base and its leadership as the window for a deal is closing. 

“Every day that passes without a deal, is a day that young people grow more and more disillusioned with the party and its ability to do anything about the crises that confront us and the crises that they promised to get solved,” said John Paul Mejia, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement. 

For months, Democrats have been trying to get a spending bill that includes several of their desired policies across the finish line. 

The House has passed an iteration of what’s known as a budget reconciliation bill, which only requires 50 votes to advance in the Senate instead of the upper chamber’s usual 60. But the legislation was effectively killed when key swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced in December that he opposed it.

In the months since, lawmakers have sought to renegotiate with Manchin to revive the package, with some indicating that they hoped to secure a deal by this weekend. 

While Manchin appears to be in talks with Democratic leadership — a person familiar said that he met Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Wednesday to discuss reconciliation — it’s unclear whether those discussions will ultimately amount to anything. 

Experts previously told The Hill that passing the bill would be paramount to achieving President Biden’s climate goals, saying the necessary emissions reductions would be difficult to achieve otherwise. 

For his part, Manchin reiterated openness to a deal this week, telling Axios he’s serious about talks with Schumer on a climate, energy and deficit reduction package.

The news outlet reported that some Democrats now believe that $300 billion in energy tax credits are possible. Manchin has previously praised some of the clean energy tax credits that his colleagues have pushed. 

But, with another key date gone, skepticism is growing among climate advocates. 

Brett Hartl, chief political strategist at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, compared Manchin’s actions to “Charlie Brown and Lucy pulling the football away over and over again.”

“It just seems less and less likely that a big package is going to come together,” Hartl said. 

And Democrats will soon be running short on time, as lawmakers are expected to leave town again in August for recess and will have to focus on campaigning for the November election.

Meanwhile, other issues that are important to Democrats, such as gun violence and abortion, may take up political capital and space on the calendar.

While activists also want to see action on these issues, they’re pushing Congress to achieve a climate deal. 

“The Democratic Party’s failure to pass reconciliation is abysmal,” Mejia said. 

“We are on tight timelines as a country and a generation,” he added. “We are facing very dangerous prospects for the future if we fail to act now.”

Yet some remain optimistic that they will find a compromise.

“There is a recipe for stew that is acceptable to 50 Democratic senators,” said Sam Ricketts, co-director of climate group Evergreen Action. “It’ll have to congeal quickly, but there is some more time.”

But Ricketts acknowledged that the window for action is limited, saying, “It’s pretty clear that we’re going to need to see movement in June if something’s going to materialize.”

And some activists say that it’s not only important for the planet that something gets done — it could also help turn out the Democrats’ base in November. 

“It is discouraging for young people and for the base because they just look at the world and they see the utter dysfunction of the Senate and the inability of the Democrats to play hardball and the inability of Joe Biden to do bold executive action,” Hartl said. 

“Yes, the alternative is far, far worse, but how many times do we have to have that calculus?” he added. “That’s not what excites people to vote.”

Tags Brett Hartl Center for Biological Diversity Chuck Schumer Climate change Evergreen action Joe Biden Joe Manchin Reconciliation reconciliation package Sunrise Movement

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