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Climate Deal Is Making McConnell Gag on His Own Tactics — But It’s Not Done Yet

The climate bill — which, while imperfect, is profoundly encouraging — could still be derailed by Sinema or COVID.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talks to reporters in the U.S. Senate Radio-TV Correspondents Gallery at the U.S. Capitol on July 19, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

You don’t see the word “giddy” much in the public prints these days, but it’s out there now holding hands with the word “surprise” after Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer came out of nowhere with a climate-tax deal everyone had assumed was dead. “Should it pass both chambers in the coming weeks,” reports The New York Times, “the measure would fulfill longstanding Democratic promises to address soaring health care costs and tax the rich, as well as provide the largest investment toward fighting climate change in American history.”

This was President Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act (BBB), which had been flayed to the bone by Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and a clot of corporate House Democrats in a months-long duck-and-dodge that left many hearts filled with hate. Mine was one: “I am so sick of writing about Sen. Joe Manchin,” I wrote back in December, “I want to bite myself until I forget he ever existed in the first place.”

Today, however, I am not King of the Haters. I’m genuinely encouraged by the emergence of a deal that could substantively help address the ever-intensifying climate crisis. That “King of Haters” title falls to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose new personal anthem is the “loser horns” from The Price Is Right. Like most in Washington D.C., McConnell was unaware that Manchin, Chuck Schumer and 10 others had been gathering in secret to negotiate a resurrection of the BBB in some form. McConnell went so far as to back off his previously announced opposition to a huge superconductor bill, allowing it to pass the Senate on Wednesday. Minutes after that passage, word of the Manchin/Schumer deal went public, and the fit hit the shan.

“Republicans are furious at Senator Joe Manchin,” reports HuffPost. “The West Virginia Democrat on Wednesday announced a surprise deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to revive much of President Joe Biden’s domestic policy agenda. ‘It was obviously a double-cross by Joe Manchin,’ Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Fox News Wednesday evening. ‘Just two weeks ago, he said he wasn’t going to support a bill like this.’ So much for the love affair between Manchin and Republicans.”

This Republican fury immediately manifested itself in a number of strange and destructive ways. Though the semiconductor bill did pass the Senate, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy led the unsuccessful opposition to it in the House, despite its broad support, because of the Manchin deal.

Sen. Susan Collins has fretted (yes, she’s “concerned” again, folks) that the deal could imperil a bill to codify gay marriage in Congress as a defense against the expected Supreme Court vandalism to come.

Perhaps most damaging was the vindictive knee-jerk Republican block of a bill to expand health care coverage for veterans who had been exposed to toxic “burn pits” during their service. The bill was in the bag before the Manchin/Schumer announcement by a vote of 85-14, but lost 25 Republican votes on a simple procedural vote after the new BBB deal came to light. The outrage was vivid, especially from former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, long an advocate for the health care needs of veterans and 9/11 first responders.

“So ain’t this a b*tch?” said Stewart at a Thursday news conference. “America’s heroes, who fought our wars, outside sweating their asses off, with oxygen battling all kinds of ailments, while these motherf**kers sit in the air conditioning walled off from any of it? They don’t have to hear it. They don’t have to see it. They don’t have to understand that these are human beings. Did you get it yet? And if this is America First, then America is f**ked.”

Lost in the politics, as usual, are the details of the new deal. While it is true that this legislation enters new territory when it comes to addressing climate change, taxing the wealthy and prescription drug prices, there are more than a few weevils in the loaf. Sharon Zhang reports for Truthout:

The bill, named the Inflation Reduction Act, contains roughly $433 billion in new spending, $369 billion of which is for climate and energy proposals, according to a one page summary of the bill. That there are climate provisions at all is an improvement over Manchin’s supposed opposition to any and all climate spending, which aides and staffers thought was his position two weeks ago. But the climate provisions could be severely undercut by new proposals put in on behalf of Manchin to expand oil and gas exploration on public lands.

Crucially, according to Bloomberg, the bill essentially locks the government into permitting new oil and gas leases for the next decade; any time the Interior Department wants to allow new wind and solar rights on federal lands, the bill mandates that the agency will have to hold oil and gas lease sales first. This is a major caveat to the bill’s touted climate spending, undermining years of climate activists’ calls for President Joe Biden to end oil and gas lease sales and going against even conservative energy organizations’ recommendations for the country to stop all new fossil fuel projects or else completely miss the global goal of limiting global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

… and then there’s this: “I was certainly pleased. She is very courageous.”

That was Mitch McConnell, speaking one year ago yesterday about Kyrsten Sinema’s ultimately fatal opposition to Biden’s budget plan. A year and a day later, Sinema has literally left town without stating her position on the new bill. Schumer intends to pass the bill via reconciliation in order to dodge the filibuster, which means all 50 Democrats plus Vice President Harris will need to vote ‘Yes.” There is no guarantee Sinema will do this, and many reasons to suspect she could blow the whole thing up with another cheeky little thumbs-down curtsey, as she did with the minimum wage hike.

Other threats to the Inflation Reduction Act include a clutch of conservative House Democrats who have bound themselves to the absolute defense of rich people’s money. Do they have enough job security to upend the bill on the doorstep of the midterm elections?

Finally, and not insignificantly, Democratic senators need to stop contracting COVID long enough to have everyone in the room at the same time to cast a vote.

As pleasant as it has been to watch Mitch McConnell gag on his own tactics, the fact remains that this strong yet still imperfect bill remains far from completed. If Kyrsten Sinema or a COVID-filled sneeze can derail the thing, that thing is not yet done. On the eve of the midterms, Democrats are so starved for good press that they have run this “deal” across the sky in lights. If it fails — and I would not bet against Sinema being Sinema again — it will be a body blow that could secure an expected Republican rout.

It is going to be a long two weeks.

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