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McConnell, GOP give political payback to Manchin

The Hill logo The Hill 9/27/2022 Alexander Bolton
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Senate Republicans on Tuesday gave Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a taste of political payback by forcing Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to cancel a scheduled vote on Manchin’s permitting reform bill. 

The message to Manchin is clear: Republicans are still furious over the surprise deal he cut with Schumer this summer to pass major pieces of the Democratic agenda. 

Manchin in a statement said it was “unfortunate that members of the United States Senate are allowing politics to put the energy security of our nation at risk.”  

Schumer announced Tuesday afternoon that Manchin had agreed to pull his permitting reform bill off a short-term government funding measure once it became clear that Republicans would block the package.  

“Senate Republicans have made very clear they will block legislation to fund the government if it includes bipartisan permitting reform. Because they’ve chosen to obstruct instead of work in a bipartisan way … I have agreed to move forward and pass the recently filed continuing resolution legislation without the Energy Independence and Security Act,” Schumer announced. 

A procedural motion to advance the government funding measure, which will last through Dec. 16, was set to pass easily after Schumer removed Manchin’s permitting reform language.  

Schumer made the announcement a few hours after Manchin traveled to his office in the Capitol early Tuesday afternoon.  

As he walked away from Schumer’s office, Manchin still insisted that he was “feeling good,” perhaps in anticipation that he would have a chance to negotiate with Republicans on a revised permitting reform bill that could move as stand-alone legislation.  

In a statement released a few hours later, Manchin said: “I stand ready to work with my colleagues to move forward on this critical legislation to meet the challenges of delivering affordable reliable energy Americans desperately need.”  

The fate of Manchin’s permitting reform bill was sealed after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stood up on the Senate floor to slam it as a “poison pill” and “permitting reform in name only” and urge Republicans to vote “no.”  

“It was written to drain the political will for actual reform without creating any meaningful change that liberal special interests might actually dislike,” McConnell said.  

He argued that Manchin’s bill would move permitting reform in the wrong direction by giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to overrule state sovereignty to direct the construction of energy transmission lines it decides are in the nation’s interest.  

“What our Democratic colleagues have produced is a phony fig leaf that would actually set back the cause of real permitting reform,” he said. “Amazingly our Democratic colleagues have managed to write language that would actually — listen to this — make things even worse.”  

McConnell and his leadership team had urged GOP senators over the past week to instead support a more comprehensive permitting reform bill sponsored by Manchin’s home-state colleague, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said Manchin miscalculated by assuming that Republicans would vote for his permitting reform deal without having a chance to negotiate the details of the final draft.

He previously noted that Republicans were not in a mood to hand Manchin a political victory after he surprised them in July by announcing a surprise deal to set a 15 percent corporate minimum tax, spend hundreds of billions of dollars on climate programs and give Medicare new power to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry.  

“I think he thought he was going to pass a bill and get it signed into law and he, I think, miscalculated,” Cornyn said. “By springing this on people and by making it purely a partisan [play].” 

Manchin did so, Cornyn indicated, by voting for the Inflation Reduction Act in August and then expecting his permitting bill to be approved.

Tuesday’s vote leaves uncertain whether Congress will have another chance to pass permitting reform, a long-held Republican priority, in the next few years.  

Manchin predicted in a Fox News interview Monday that if his bill died, permitting reform would not pass Congress in the foreseeable future.  

He also admitted that McConnell’s opposition to his permitting reform bill caught him by surprise. He said he expected the intense opposition of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), House progressives and liberal-leaning environmental justice groups.  

“I never did think I’d have Bernie and some of the extreme far-left,” he said. “What I didn’t expect is that Mitch McConnell and my Republican friends would be sacking up with Bernie or trying to get the same outcome by not passing permitting reform.”

Manchin worked furiously to round up enough Republican support for his bill, even in the final hours before Tuesday’s vote, but in the end couldn’t break McConnell’s grip on the GOP conference.  

Cornyn said Manchin can still pass permitting reform if he’s willing to work with Capito on a stronger permitting reform package. 

He suggested a revised bill could be attached to the annual defense authorization bill or another piece of must-pass legislation before the end of the year.  

“My hope would be that Sen. Capito has expressed an interest in working with him to reconcile the differences between her permitting bill and his in a way that gains bipartisan support,” he said. “If Sen. Schumer is serious about it and sincere, then he can facilitate a bipartisan permitting bill.”  

Capito introduced a more ambitious permitting reform bill earlier this month.  

It would codify the Trump administration’s National Environmental Policy Act regulations, expedite the permitting and review processes and set up a framework for timely approvals of energy projects.  

Schumer’s decision to split permitting reform off the short-term government funding bill eases fears of a possible government shutdown at the end of the week.  

McConnell urged Democrats to bring a short-term funding measure without Manchin’s permitting language to the Senate floor instead, which he said Republicans would support. 

“Both sides of the aisle want to prevent a government shutdown that no one wants,” he said.  

By forcing Schumer to pull Manchin’s bill off the floor, Republicans handed a victory to Senate and House progressives who had pressured their leaders to separate permitting reform and government funding.  

“In the midst of the horrific climate crisis that we face, the last thing we need is a side deal which would build more pipelines and fossil fuel projects that would have substantially increased carbon emissions. This is a victory for the survival of the planet and a major loss for the fossil fuel industry,” Sanders said in a statement reacting to Schumer’s announcement. 

More than 70 House Democrats signed a letter calling for Manchin’s bill to be dropped from the continuing resolution. 

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