Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled Wednesday that she could back a side deal between Democratic leaders and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) if it is included in a Senate bill funding the government, setting up a potential clash with liberals in the debate over climate change.
“If the Senate passes a CR, we have to keep government open,” Pelosi told The Hill, referring to a continuing resolution — a stopgap funding measure to prevent a shutdown.
Pelosi may not have to deal with such a situation.
Democrats need 10 Republican senators to back a CR to get it through the Senate, and Republicans have raised complaints about the permitting reform issue at the center of Manchin’s deal with President Biden, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
It’s entirely possible the Senate ends up sending a “clean” resolution to the House despite the promise to Manchin.
“Let’s see what the Senate does,” Pelosi told The Hill.
At issue is an agreement cut in July granting centrist Manchin a vote on legislation designed to expedite energy infrastructure projects. The deal — which won Manchin’s support for a much larger health and climate bill enacted last month — dictated that the vote would come before Oct. 1. But Pelosi noted Wednesday that the legislative vehicle was never specified.
“We had agreed to bring up a vote, yes,” she said, adding that “we never agreed on how” that vote would go down.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) stirred some confusion on Wednesday when he declared in no uncertain terms that no House Democrats, Pelosi included, have endorsed the deal.
“The Speaker has said she was not part of that agreement. I was not part of that agreement. Our committees were not part of that agreement,” Hoyer said during a press briefing. “I’m not critical of the agreement. I have questions about it, concerns about it. But having said that, this is not our agreement.”
The discordant statements left many Democrats scratching their heads — and looking for more clarity from leadership as the party scrambles to get on the same page and keep the government running beyond Oct. 1.
“I can’t make sense of any of it,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), a liberal who opposes the permitting reforms. “Many of us really don’t know what happened. And that adds to the uncertainty that many of us are feeling. What is it that happened here? What is it exactly we’re expected to do? And where do all these moving parts settle out?
“This is a very dynamic situation.”
As the House awaits word from the Senate, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the lower chamber’s top appropriator, said Wednesday that she opposes the idea of expediting energy projects. But she also suggested Democrats might have to swallow some version of permitting reform for the sake of preventing a shutdown.
“I’m not supportive of that piece,” she said. “But also, there’s the issue of where we go in terms of keeping the government open.”
The fate of Manchin’s proposed changes in the environmental review process isn’t certain in the upper chamber, as at least some Republicans appear hostile to it.
In the House, there is significant resistance on the Democratic side from progressives who argue that it could speed up polluting and planet-warming fossil fuel projects.
Nearly 80 members signed onto a letter opposing the permitting reform and calling for its exclusion from the government funding measure or any other must-pass legislation.
In a written statement earlier this week, the leader of the opposition, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), warned that insistence on including the reforms in the CR could result in a government shutdown.
“Give us a clean CR and let these dirty permitting provisions stand up to congressional scrutiny on their own. Now is not the time to roll the dice on a government shutdown,” he told The Hill.
If Democratic leadership can’t get enough support within their own party, House Republicans are one place they could go for potential votes to fund the government. Republicans have long supported changes to the permitting process, arguing that it’s currently too lengthy and holds up important infrastructure.
Pelosi is generally loath to getting GOP votes to pass government funding measures, however, and Republicans in this case may have zero interest in offering help.
Additional uncertainty stems from the fact that there is no legislative text outlining what exactly Manchin’s reforms would look like, and Manchin’s office has only released a broad summary.
“If they send us something, we’ll take a look. But they’ve got to put 60 votes on something in order to send it over,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), the fifth-ranking House Democrat. “So, I don’t need to get excited about that right now when I don’t have legislative language and they don’t know if they have votes.”
That summary says that the agreement would speed up the timeline for environmental reviews that are required before an energy project can be approved, restrict states’ ability to block projects that run through their waters and make the president prioritize a “balanced” list of energy projects.
It would also require the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia, according to the summary.
The issue has put Democratic leadership in a tough spot — caught between Manchin, who they may need to work with in the future, and a large swath of their party.
Roughly two weeks before government funding expires, all sides of the debate say they’re hopeful a resolution will emerge to prevent a shutdown.
“It’s way too soon to make any categorical pronouncements,” said Huffman. “I’m watching, I’m engaging and still hoping that this doesn’t come down to some terribly divisive ultimatum.”