Months into the Democrats’ messy, public internal debates on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better spending plans — and despite a massive effort by Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speak Nancy Pelosi to seal the deal this week — it is still far from clear whether the factions of the party will work out a way to pass the reconciliation bill, which has already been chiseled down beyond recognition.
To prevent the bill’s further destruction, the Congressional Progressive Caucus pressed Speaker Pelosi to delay a vote of the separate $550billion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Congressional Progressive Caucus demanded that Speaker Pelosi wait until the Build back Better budget reconciliation package is ready before he votes on the larger infrastructure bill. Pelosi responded to the collective power shown by the group of progressive lawmakers. announced late ThursdayShe was delaying the vote for the larger bipartisan bill.
Despite the fact that the Build Back Better Bill passes, due to the massive scalebacks that conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Silnema have demanded, what had the potential to transformative in terms of New Deal and Great Society signature programs are now in part reduced as another public display and demonstration of Washington, D.C.’s dysfunctional in the face to overwhelming challenges and in the churning tsunami of lobbying efforts against the legislation by business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable.
However, the bill could still be passed if it passes. meaningfully impact many people’s lives by extending the federal payments to families with children, increasing Pell Grant spending, and allowing for large expansions in the country’s stock of affordable housing. Perhaps the most important aspect is that the legislation will firmly establish the idea that federal priority is climate change mitigation.
Even the bare-bones version of the bill, which is expected to bring in $1.75 trillion in new expenditures, rather than the $3.5 trillion originally planned, promises to contain upwards of $500 billion to fund climate change-related investmentsMost of the money was used to provide tax incentives to encourage companies towards cleaner energy products. That’s a lot of money, and if used effectively, it has the potential to alter the country’s relationship to fossil fuels and to carbon emissions over the next decade.
The moment when the federal government’s full force was focused on transforming America’s economy to shift away from fossil fuels quickly and permanently and on mitigating the impacts of global warming has now turned into a food war. Yes, there is still money to be spent on climate change. But it will be done with ill-will and begrudgingly, without the vital provisions necessary to turbo-charge the economy’s reorganization.
Senator Manchin’s role in all of this has been particularly unsavory, a somewhat compelling masterclass of one man’s shameless exercise of raw, king-making power.
The senator from West Virginia, one of the country’s leading producers of both coal and natural gas, has gone after provisions in the legislation that penalize fossil fuel producers and try to force, at speed, a transition to cleaner energy. He has used his position both as a key swing vote and as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to push a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach to the legislation.
Manchin opposes penalties for utilities companies that don’t increase the share of low-carbon power that they generate by 4 percentage points each year from 2023 through 2030.
As a result, the $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program, which at one point was the centerpiece of the climate proposals, and which both incentivizes the move to clean energy and, more importantly, penalizes those companies that don’t make the move, was stripped from the reconciliation billBefore the Senate. What It is left are hundreds of billions of dollars of tax credits to companies that move toward renewable energy production and usage — but that will, according to estimates, only get the country about halfway to where it needs to be if it is to meet the goals set in the upcoming COP26 meeting in Scotland.
Manchin has also vowed to oppose the idea of a fee for companies that emit methane into the atmosphere, which is a major contributor to global warming. As a result, it’s looking increasingly likely, as Democrats scramble to reach a deal — any deal, at any cost, simply so they can say to voters that they got something done — that the methane feeIn the coming days, they will be on the cutting-room floor.
In the meantime, the idea of a carbon border adjustment tax — which progressives have long been pushing as a way to even the playing field between companies that produce goods overseas in lax regulatory environments and U.S.-based companies, which are subjected to more rigorous environmental regulations — hasn’t picked up enough traction. The White House was concerned that taxing products on carbon content would lead to higher consumer prices in an already inflationary environment. However, it never supported the tax.
The Biden administration made it clear during the summer that it wouldn’t push for the measure. Now, it is also becoming clear that there isn’t enough support in the Democratic caucus in the Senate to include such a plan in the final reconciliation bill. This means that while the European Union is on the verge of moving ahead with this method of reining in carbon emissionsThe U.S. is still on the sidelines.
There is overwhelming pressure for the Democrats to pass a reconciliation legislation within the next week so Biden can sign it prior to his address at the COP26 meeting. The obvious electoral consequences for the Democrats of this crucial legislation being thrown out in flames are too terrible even for a mediocre Senate leader like Schumer.
But at the same time, it’s not at all clear that the legislation that does ultimately pass will be transformative enough to rescue the Democrats from their self-inflicted malaise, or even start to meet the massive needs of the moment. The climate change compromises are particularly dispiriting — better than nothing but far less ambitious than what is needed to meet the escalating climate crisis that is now so clearly and vividly upon us.