Alternative Investment Report

Revenge? Republicans weigh tanking Manchin’s permitting plan

Senate Republicans say Joe Manchin can’t count on them to save his energy permitting deal with Democratic leaders, potentially upending efforts to attach the centrist’s proposal to a must-pass government funding bill.

With progressives already balking, several Republicans said Monday night that they might not provide the votes needed to break a filibuster of permitting reform, a key cog of this summer’s Democratic climate, health care and tax deal. Though easing construction of energy projects is a longstanding core GOP goal, the party’s senators said they were under no obligation to cough up perhaps a dozen or more votes that Democrats need to get Manchin’s vision done.

Republicans have introduced their own proposal, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (D-W.Va.) and supported by 48 GOP senators. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Democrats would have better luck attaching that Republican permitting legislation to this month’s government funding bill than adding Manchin’s plan, which remains unreleased.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that “I don’t think you can count on any Republicans to vote for something they haven’t seen.” But there’s another factor: Manchin’s agreement with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass their party-line domestic policy centerpiece this summer — with permitting reform as a side agreement, requiring votes from both parties to pass later.

“Given what Senator Manchin did on the reconciliation bill, [it’s] engendered a lot of bad blood,” Cornyn said. “There’s not a lot of sympathy on our side to provide Sen. Manchin a reward.”

The uncertainty around Manchin’s proposal is the Hill’s central drama as Congress sprints to finish its work before the midterms. The Senate is expected to move first on a stopgap spending bill to avert a shutdown on Oct. 1, likely extending current government funding through Dec. 16.

Ukraine aid is likely to be included, though the GOP is expected to block coronavirus and monkeypox funding from the measure. That leaves the main question of whether Congress can approve Manchin’s proposal for speeding up construction of energy projects, including West Virginia’s Mountain Valley natural gas line.

Manchin is warning Republicans that it would be “horrible politics” for them to reject legislation that would speed up both fossil-fuel and clean energy projects.

“Something you’ve always wanted, and you get 80 percent of something, and you’re gonna let the perfect be the enemy of the good?” Manchin said. “It’s a shame that basically the politics is trumping policy that we’ve all wanted for the last 10 or 12 years.”

Negotiators still aren’t close to an agreement — making it highly unlikely that any bill will move this week, according to senior aides. Without a deal in the coming days, both chambers could be working right up until next week’s deadline, despite an eagerness among Democrats to avoid chaos in their final legislative stretch before the midterm elections.

Democrats believe Republicans are exacting revenge on Manchin and Democrats for steamrolling them this summer. The majority party passed a microchip bill with bipartisan votes, then announced a deal between Manchin and Schumer that plowed hundreds of billions of dollars into fighting climate change, imposed a corporate minimum tax and extended expiring health care subsidies.

“I think they just don’t want to give another win to either a Democratic Senate or a Joe Manchin,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

Depending on how Democrats structure the votes on the stopgap spending plan, Republicans may be able to block the addition of permitting reform to the legislation. Democrats could play hardball and roll the permitting measure into the short-term spending bill right before the funding deadline, essentially daring Republicans to vote to shut down the government.

“Obviously, there’s flexibility over there and they’re trying to figure it out,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said of the Senate.

In the House, discussions are at a standstill as Democrats await further details about Manchin’s proposal. A group of 70 House Democrats, mostly progressives, threatened not to support the stopgap funding bill if Manchin’s permitting reforms are included — though the House’s liberal arm, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has stopped short of threatening a shutdown.

The temporary funding patch could include billions of dollars to help Ukraine maintain its momentum in the war against Russia, money to bolster the federal response to natural disasters and a slimmed down renewal of the FDA’s ability to collect user fees that fund much of the agency’s work, among other things.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). said Monday evening she had no new progress to report. Asked about whether she could unveil the text this week, she said: “It’s always my hope that we can move sooner than later.”

Schumer said over the weekend that he plans to pursue at least $12 billion for Ukraine, slightly more than the Biden administration’s ask of $11.7 billion. GOP senators, citing the country’s recent success in fighting the Russian military, have said they’re amenable to providing extra cash.

“I think that the most likely additional thing to be on the [continuing resolution] … would be the Ukraine money,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), an appropriator who serves on the defense subpanel.

The Biden administration has also asked for more than $22 billion to respond to emerging Covid needs and $4.5 billion to combat the monkeypox outbreak. Republicans have essentially rejected both requests.

President Joe Biden’s comment in a Sunday night interview that “the pandemic is over” also fueled the GOP sentiment that pandemic recovery funds aren’t necessary. At the same time, the administration has said more money is critical to keep providing free shots, tests and therapeutics to the uninsured or underinsured.

“We’ve got to look at the numbers and see how it would be utilized,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mon.) said of the White House request.

Biden has also asked for more than $6 billion to respond to natural disasters, including funds that would flow to red states like Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas. In addition, Puerto Rico has endured devastating floods and power outages caused by Hurricane Fiona, while an ongoing water crisis in Jackson, Miss., has left hundreds of thousands without drinking water for months.

Once passed, the stopgap would buy weeks of time for talks on a broader agreement that would boost agency budgets for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. The short-term funding measure needs 60 votes to pass the Senate.

And Republicans say when it does, it might not include Manchin’s big permitting legislation. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the plan a “corrupt deal” among Democrats, while Sen. Roger Wicker put it this way: “I don’t think that’s going to go anywhere.”

Nancy Vu and Alice Miranda Ollstein contributed to this report.