Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) could throw a major wrench into Democrats’ reconciliation bill as the person in charge of the bill’s climate provisions — and as a lawmaker with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry.
On behalf of companies like Exxon, oil and gas lobbyists have descended upon Washington to oppose taxation and climate provisions in early drafts of the $3.5 trillion bill. In hopes of directly influencing Manchin, they have been calling him, writing to him and meeting with him.
Manchin, in turn, is working to ensure that the bill’s climate proposals “protect and extend the use of coal and natural gas,” according to the New York Times. He has positioned himself largely against the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would incentivize utility companies to use zero-emissions sources and is one of the largest climate proposals in the bill. The proposal “makes no sense at all,” Manchin said on CNN.
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This wouldn’t be the first time Manchin has welcomed fossil fuel companies’ influence into a bill he’s working on. Exxon lobbyists infamously bragged about the sway they had over the members of the Senate who wrote the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Manchin worked on. The infrastructure bill ended up having very few climate provisions.
“It wouldn’t offend me at all if you said, ‘Yes, it’s getting hotter and people need to run their air conditioning more.’ And Joe Manchin feels the same way,” Steve Roberts, president of the conservative-leaning West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, told the New York Times. “But we think we have to be realistic about the elimination of carbon emissions,” he added, arguing for Congress to slow down its already virtually nonexistent action against the climate crisis.
Roberts discussed Manchin’s ties with the business community, detailing how the senator spent two days at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s resort earlier this month. There, he fielded conversations with business owners in the state eager to talk to the senator about climate policy.
I’m old enough to remember when a lobbyist for ExxonMobil – which allegedly has weekly meetings with Joe Machin – said this is exactly what they wanted out of a clean energy standard https://t.co/n4FyHP89PW pic.twitter.com/OBCvR0xxBb
— Kate Aronoff (@KateAronoff) September 19, 2021
Manchin, as the New York Times also points out, has direct financial interest in the health of the fossil fuel industry. He owns stock valued between $1 million and $5 million in coal broker Enersystems, Inc., which he helped found. Last year, according to Senate financial disclosures, the senator made $491,949 in dividends from that stock holding.
Meanwhile, Manchin has been making a number of threats to severely weaken or kill the entire reconciliation package — not just its climate provisions.
According to Axios, Manchin is saying that he wants to pause a vote on the bill until 2022. He has also previously said that he wants Democrats to “hit the pause button” on the bill. This would be a huge perversion of the Democrats’ timeline, which has long been to tie the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill together.
It’s also unclear why Manchin is so insistent on delaying the bill; the main reason he’s given is the price tag, saying that he wants to shrink the bill to around a third of its size. Delaying the bill over the course of months, spurring further polarization and debate around the package, could be strategic for him. After all, this is what he and Republicans did to the infrastructure package, shrinking it to nearly an eighth of the size of Biden’s original proposal.
The West Virginia Democrat is not alone. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) has also told President Joe Biden that she will vote against the bill containing a wide swath of his agenda if the bipartisan infrastructure bill is delayed past its scheduled House vote on September 27 or if it is rejected by the House. Each vote in the Senate is crucial for the reconciliation bill, which needs every Democrats’ support for simple majority approval.
Evidently, Sinema has about 10 House Democrats on her side for this plan. “If they delay the vote — or it goes down — then I think you can kiss reconciliation goodbye,” Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) told Politico. “Reconciliation would be dead.”
This is an extreme threat coming from the conservative Democrats, who have already largely gotten their way with the bipartisan infrastructure bill. If Sinema and the House Democrats make good on their promise, it would effectively kill both bills. Progressives have been threatening for months that if the reconciliation bill is shrunk or insufficient, they will vote down the infrastructure bill.
Conservative Democrats have created a situation of mutually assured destruction on Congress’s only major climate bill. Whereas progressives are withholding their votes in the interest of social programs and climate action, conservative Democrats have yet to come up with a compelling reason as to why they are so willing to nuke Biden’s agenda for a flimsy bipartisan bill.
Conservative Democrats further seem rather blasé about the climate and safety net expansion proposals in the bill. “Some moderates privately have decided that no infrastructure bill is better than one that’s paired with $3.5 trillion in spending,” Politico reported.