Energy & Environment

Democrats divided over how hard to push Manchin

Democrats are divided over how hard to push Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to vote on President Biden’s climate and social spending bill before Christmas, with some lawmakers favoring an aggressive approach while others worry about killing the legislation by moving too hastily.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said for weeks that he wants to vote on Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act before Christmas, but on Tuesday he declined to guarantee a vote next week.

“The bottom line is right now there are good discussions going on. As I said, we’re moving forward with progress. The president’s been speaking with Sen. Manchin, and I look forward to hearing about further progress,” Schumer said Tuesday when asked if he would guarantee a vote before Christmas.

Schumer is under pressure from progressives, including members of his own leadership team, to put the 2,400-page bill up for a vote next week, even though Manchin — a key swing vote — hasn’t yet said whether he will support proceeding to the measure.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), progressives on Schumer’s leadership team, want to light a fire under Manchin by requiring him to vote on proceeding to the climate and social spending bill, even if he doesn’t give a green light in advance.

“I just don’t think you can bring it to closure and finally close down the negotiation unless you have a date certain and a time to call the measure. As soon as it gets anything near the green light from [the] parliamentarian, I think we should move quickly,” Durbin, the Senate majority whip, told reporters.

Durbin, emphasizing that he was speaking just for himself, said there should be a vote even if Democrats aren’t 100 percent certain how Manchin will vote.

“It’s always a risk, but you know it’s also my experience after 25 years in this place that many people will sit on the fence as long as possible. There comes a time when you’ve got to say, ‘Alright, we’ve done the negotiating, we’ve made the accommodations, it’s time to put up or shut up,’” he said.

Warren, a vice chair of the Senate Democratic conference, said “we need to vote.”

“We have talked and talked and talked. We all understand what the issues are, we know what the programs are, we know how to pay for it, it’s time to vote,” she said.

Warren expressed frustration that liberals agreed to vote for the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, one of Manchin’s top priorities, with the expectation that he would then support their social spending priorities in Build Back Better.

A month after Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, Manchin still hasn’t signed off on the social spending package that was supposed to accompany it as part of a two-track strategy.

“The agreement from the beginning was that was one deal, part of which would be the bipartisan infrastructure and part of which would be Build Back Better. That was what everyone in our caucus agreed to, what the leaders of the House and the Senate agreed to, and yet we seem to be having trouble pulling the Build Back Better part across the finish line,” she said.

Centrist Democrats, however, say it’s not absolutely necessary that the climate and social spending package get a vote before Christmas, especially if it’s not certain that Manchin and all 49 other members of the Democratic caucus will back it.

“I don’t know that that’s absolutely essential,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “I think what’s more important is what’s in it rather than the time frame around.”

He said “that’s fine” if the bill is postponed until the new year.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), another centrist, predicted “it’s going to be very difficult” to get the bill wrapped up by before Christmas.

Schumer doesn’t seem eager to roll the dice by bringing a bill to the floor without a clear indication from Manchin about how he would vote.

A leader closely attuned to media coverage, he has been careful to regularly tout the Senate’s accomplishments and present a narrative of lawmakers making steady progress on Biden’s agenda.

Suffering a defeat on a motion to proceed to a major piece of Biden’s domestic agenda would spawn negative headlines and more intense media scrutiny of divisions in the Democratic caucus.

Asked if it would make more sense to delay the legislation until January, Schumer said he would await the “good discussions going on between the president and Joe Manchin.”

But Schumer declined to comment on whether he thinks Manchin ultimately wants to get to yes, only saying Democrats are working hard to put the bill in a position to pass in case his colleague gives it a thumbs up.  

Manchin on Tuesday gave reporters little indication of any progress in his talks with Biden this week.

He spoke with the president at length on Tuesday and again briefly on Wednesday.

“I want people to understand where I am,” he said, providing no detail about what he wants changed in the bill.

Manchin issued a statement Tuesday expressing his concern about the federal debt after he voted with the rest of the Democratic caucus to raise the debt limit by $2.5 trillion. 

“Make no mistake, we must get our fiscal house in order, and I am committed to making sure we are not spending beyond our means,” he said.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), emerging from a meeting in Schumer’s office Tuesday afternoon, said there’s still a substantial amount of work to be done on energy-related provisions, such as proposals to tax carbon emissions or levy fees on carbon-intensive imports at the border.

“There’s a wide range of issues that are still being discussed and negotiated. All of them are designed to both strengthen our response to climate change and meet the needs and concerns of a wide range of members,” he said. “There are many other issues still to work through and resolve.”

Progressive Democrats are running out of patience, however.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said the Democratic-controlled Congress needs to send another major piece of legislation to Biden’s desk before the end of the year.

He said Congress should stay in session over the scheduled Christmas break to either pass voting rights legislation or the climate and social spending package.

“We are way behind where I’d like to see us be,” he said. “I’d like to go right up to Christmas Eve and then take a day off and be right back here until we get them both done.”

Tags Angus King Build Back Better Chris Coons Chuck Schumer Climate change Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Filibuster Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Tester

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