Before he would have gone up in flames, Joe Manchin discovered an escape route.
The West Virginia Democrat had just one viable choice when Republicans were about to derail his landmark energy permitting legislation after 20 months as the centre of the 50-50 Senate: extract it from legislation relating to government financing. Manchin’s top aim of expediting clearance for energy projects was maintained by the action, but he cannot be certain that it will be met with a more favourable response later this year.
Manchin’s permitting bill was originally intended as a capstone to his enormous influence in the Congress, where he played key roles in everything from a bipartisan infrastructure law to a post-Jan. 6 overhaul of presidential certification to two sizable Democratic-only initiatives. This summer, the centrist and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer came up with a two-part plan: first, Manchin would assist in passing a party-line legislation on taxes, health care, and the environment; second, Schumer would take up a proposal to speed up major energy projects, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia.
But after a period in which everything went his way, Manchin’s final top priority required Republican backing. And with only last week’s release of his legislation, there were simply too many issues for him to address in a reasonable amount of time. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from his own state, has her own permitting measure, and Republicans who want to unseat Manchin in 2024 are generally not interested in bailing him out of a hole.
“He believed he would pass a bill and secure its passage into law. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close supporter of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who whipped against Manchin’s effort behind the scenes and publicly lobbied for its loss on Tuesday, said: “He miscalculated, is the nicest way I could characterise it.
Republicans repealing a policy aim that so many Democrats have been advocating for years was met with a level of irony comparable to Alanis Griffith’s.
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who supports Manchin’s permits measure, responded, “If Senator Manchin assumed they were going to agree to something that he knew that they wanted, then I guess you might call this a miscalculation.” Or you may claim that they are engaging in political games.
Manchin had made this week the most important one for his campaign, saying that it was basically now or never. He has been working the phones behind the scenes for the past few days to preserve his bill, calling Republican senators from energy-producing states and speaking with top figures in the energy sector in preparation for a last-ditch effort.
In an interview, he claimed that he spoke with “all my friends, industry, and everybody I possibly can.” McConnell asked Schumer to remove the permitting language from a short-term funding package as he signalled that he had the support to halt Manchin.
Manchin quickly returned to his work on the floor after noting that “a missed vote on something as vital as comprehensive permitting reform only serves to embolden dictators like Putin who wish to see America fail.” On the Senate floor, Manchin approached Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and said, “Let’s get together.”
He still has at least two opportunities to influence lawmakers this year, although they are less urgent than this week’s pre-election deadline. The first is the yearly defence policy measure from Congress, which might be passed after the election, and the second is the lame-duck budget bill from December.
Either could provide the means by which Manchin’s proposal is finally passed, though doing so would almost certainly need him to reach a compromise with members of the other party like Capito and Cassidy. Capito said she’s up for dealing, so that’s a good sign.
In an interview, she remarked, “This subject is so vital that, I think, getting folks to the table, we can strike a bipartisan solution.”
Republicans have so far preferred to revamp energy permitting while dodging more environmental restrictions than Democrats can stand. Democrats don’t believe the deficit cannot be closed, though.
“We ought to bargain. Sen. Brian Schatz stated, “I don’t know if the Capito bill is the correct baseline to start with since that was an aggressive wish list (D-Hawaii). But Sen. Capito has a track record of striking compromises with both parties,
Many Democrats backed Manchin’s legislation as a means of achieving President Joe Biden’s climate goals, which call for cutting American emissions of gases that cause global warming in half by the end of the decade compared to 2005 levels. The progressive caucus and environmental organisations, however, criticised them, claiming that Manchin’s bill undermined pollution protections for communities near energy installations.
Senators from both parties agreed that Manchin’s proposal would not be abandoned by Congress as a result of the delay in the vote. In a statement, Schumer reaffirmed his commitment to working to “implement sensible permitting reform before the end of the year.”
Manchin’s leverage is less powerful than it was last summer when he controlled the deciding vote on Democrats’ agenda, but party leaders regard themselves as owed to him and aren’t going to walk away now, it became evident on Tuesday when Manchin saved his measure from a certain implosion.