AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
When President Joe Biden signed a stopgap funding bill this past Friday that did not include permitting reform legislation, it marked the latest broken promise from President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and congressional Democrats as a whole – and was another clear sign that the progressive wing is still firmly in control of the Democrat Party.
The stopgap bill, also known as a continuing resolution or CR, will keep the government open through December 16, a major win for Democrats as both parties head into the final weeks of the fall campaign season. But although the CR provides $12.4 billion in additional aid for Ukraine and funding for dozens of other government programs of questionable utility, it includes none of the permitting reform (changes to the process by which energy projects are approved by the federal government) that Democrat leadership had said would be included.
In July, Schumer struck a deal with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to break the gridlock on passage of Biden’s budget reconciliation package – the gargantuan spending bill that would dubiously be titled the “Inflation Reduction Act” (IRA). In an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press shortly before passage of the IRA, Manchin confirmed an “agreement” between himself, Pelosi, Schumer, and Biden that if he would vote for the reconciliation bill, Democrat leadership would promise to introduce and pass permitting reform legislation “before the end of the fiscal year” (September 30). Further, Manchin stated that there would be “consequences” if Schumer, Pelosi, or Biden broke their promise – although he deflected when pressed on what exactly those consequences would be.
The need for permitting reform – which would have significantly aided in ramping up domestic energy production – has become even more apparent in the face of rising energy costs worldwide. In a one-page summary of the IRA, Senate Democrat leadership specifically stated that permitting reform “is essential to unlocking domestic energy and transmission projects, which will lower costs for consumers and help us meet our long-term emissions goals.”
But as Congress neared last Friday’s deadline to extend government funding, it quickly became clear that Democrats didn’t have the support for Manchin’s proposed reforms, and the legislation was stripped from the CR last Tuesday.
In comments following the decision to remove permitting reform from the funding bill, Schumer attempted to shift blame on Republicans, claiming they were choosing to “obstruct instead of work in a bipartisan way to achieve something they’ve long claimed they want to do.”
But that analysis doesn’t square with comments from other Senate Democrats, including Manchin himself. Instead of joining Schumer in blaming of Republicans, Manchin only said rather dejectedly that “It is unfortunate that members of the United States Senate are allowing politics to put the energy security of our nation at risk.” Senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, was elated about the decision, saying that it marks “a good day for the climate and for the environment and a bad day for big oil and the fossil fuel industry.”
Notably, Manchin also told reporters prior to the Senate vote on the CR on Thursday that he expected “45 to 48” Democrats to vote “yes” on the version of the bill with permitting reform – meaning that Schumer would have had to bank on support from Republicans or risk a funding lapse. That support appeared unlikely, as the GOP was already backing another even stronger permitting reform proposal from the other West Virginia Senator, Shelley Moore Capito.
The most likely scenario thus seems to be that Schumer – as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – realized that they were again at the mercy of the progressive wing of their party, radical leftists who have shown before that they are more than willing to damage their own party in service of their ideological agenda. For progressives, a government shutdown is of no consequence in comparison to the climate apocalypse they prophesy if they do not succeed in their crusade to shut down oil and gas production. The fact that Manchin himself requested the permitting reform legislation be removed from the CR in order for Schumer to save face was yet another acknowledgement of who really runs the caucus.
Two things should be clear from this outcome. First, voters – and particularly West Virginia voters – no longer have any reason to believe Joe Manchin’s “moderate” charade. Manchin had all the leverage this summer to force Schumer to tie permitting reform to passage of the IRA, rather than just vague promises to pass it at some later date. If that had happened, progressives in both the House and the Senate would have faced far more pressure to support it. Instead, Manchin chose only to pay lip service to this supposed “priority,” promising to get to it later, and has now retreated in the face of opposition.
Second, when it comes to any legislation of real consequence, the far left dominates the Democrat Party. For all the bluster of supposed “moderates” like Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the 117th Congress has still passed the most radical left-wing legislation in American history, particularly on fiscal policy. Despite all the rhetoric about the need to fight inflation, every Democrat fell in line behind the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure bill, the IRA (which is actually predicted to make inflation worse) and now the government funding bill.
Just hours after passage of the CR, Manchin was already floating that he was prepared to take another stand on permitting reform with the two other “must-pass” bills this year: the annual defense policy bill and another government spending bill. But both of these bills will likely come up after November’s election – meaning that progressives will have even less of an incentive to support permitting reform, or anything else perceived as at odds with their radical agenda.
Manchin knows this, and so should the rest of the country. As much as the party establishment and the mainstream media may want to prop up the image of a powerful moderate faction of the Democrat Party, the truth is that it simply does not exist, or to the extent that it does has no real influence. Instead, it is the ascendant far-left fringe that sets party priorities and ultimately determines what becomes law.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.