Biden comments add momentum to spending bill’s climate measures
President Biden’s remarks at a Wednesday press conference are giving momentum to the climate portions of his spending agenda as lawmakers call for Congress to pass the parts of the Build Back Better legislation that are achievable.
Biden expressed confidence that lawmakers can pass upward of $500 billion in energy and environmental spending — a number close to the amount the White House proposed spending on climate and clean energy in October.
And after months of negotiations, weary lawmakers are now pushing to get climate action across the finish line.
“The climate and clean energy provisions in Build Back Better have been largely worked through and financed, so let’s start there and add any of the other important provisions to support working families that can meet the 50-vote threshold,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement.
Markey is far from alone.
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who has been a vocal proponent of the legislation’s climate change measures, expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with The Hill.
“We need to figure out what we have agreement on and we need to do that,” Smith said.
“Based on where we have been and comments that Sen. Manchin has made about the climate provisions that we have been negotiating up until the end of last year, it seems like those sections of the old Build Back Better bill should be in pretty good shape,” she added.
Manchin is the West Virginia Democrat who stopped the Build Back Better bill in its tracks when he announced his opposition in December. Democrats need all of their 50 caucus members to back the legislation for it to get to Biden’s desk.
Manchin has expressed support for the environmental provisions, but moving ahead would mean cuts to other programs, including an expanded child tax credit, to win his vote.
But Smith said it’s important to be practical and get as much as possible out of the negotiations.
“I’m a progressive in the caucus but I’m also practical, and I think this is the practical, commonsense way of moving forward to accomplish the best that we can,” she said.
Democrats in Congress have historically failed to move major climate change legislation forward and have suffered from high-profile failures like the Obama-era Waxman-Markey bill.
Democrats have limited options for getting this type of spending across, give the budgetary rules that allow them to avoid a filibuster that would allow the GOP to block their measure.
It’s unlikely that 10 Republicans would join Democrats on many of their climate provisions. The New York Times recently asked all 50 Republicans if they would support the climate provisions as a standalone and none of them said that they would.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told reporters Thursday that he saw Biden’s latest remarks as establishing a way forward for some provisions like climate.
“What the president did last night, and he and I talked about this a number of times, is he created a path for a handful of provisions where we’ve got a lot of strong support, and it starts with climate. It starts with health care,” he said.
Biden, during his Wednesday press conference said, “I think we can break the package up,”
“Get as much as we can now and fight for the rest later,” he added.
The president also said that he believes Democrats can pass more than $500 billion in energy and environment spending, a figure close to the White House’s proposed $555 billion of climate and clean energy spending from October.
Manchin earlier this month said that climate is an area “we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else” and specifically touted clean energy tax credits.
Not all of the climate change provisions are settled, though.
Manchin actively opposes a tax credit for union-built electric vehicles and negotiations are continuing over a program aimed at cutting releases of a powerful planet-warming gas called methane from the oil and gas industry.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) told reporters that he would fight to get the methane proposal done.
“We’re going to get a methane emissions reduction program going. We’re going to get it done,” he said. “We worked very hard with Sen. Manchin and his team and others — other stakeholders — to come up with a good plan … and by golly, we’re going to get it done. Sooner rather than later.”
A lobbyist following the negotiations who requested anonymity to speak freely said they believe that Biden’s comments put extra attention on areas that aren’t totally resolved, including the methane program.
“It does put a higher scrutiny on anything … where the ink isn’t dry,” the person said.
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