Manchin: Energy permitting bill to be ready Wednesday

The West Virginia Democrat says Republicans shouldn’t oppose it because of ‘revenge politics’

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday at a news conference about energy permitting changes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday at a news conference about energy permitting changes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 20, 2022 at 4:38pm

Sen. Joe Manchin III says his long-anticipated bill to streamline energy infrastructure permitting will be released Wednesday and that he hopes Republicans will change their minds about opposing it before it comes up for a vote on a stopgap funding bill next week. 

The West Virginia Democrat did not share many details about the permitting legislation in advance of its release but promised on Tuesday it will not bypass environmental reviews, as some Democrats fear.

Manchin also argued that this is Republicans’ best shot at enacting permitting changes for which they have long pushed — even if it doesn’t go as far as they’d like — and that they shouldn’t oppose it because of “revenge politics” for him providing the key vote for Democrats to pass a more sweeping climate, tax and health care law. 

“I’m hearing that the Republican leadership is upset and they’re saying we’re not going to give a victory to Joe Manchin,” he said. “Joe Manchin is not looking for a victory. We’ve got a good piece of legislation that is extremely balanced, and I think it will prove itself in time.”

The Wednesday release of the permitting bill text should give members “plenty of time” to review the details before voting on it as part of the continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30, Manchin said. 

“That’s a week before we’ll probably move or do anything on the CR,” he said. 

Manchin said he knew the “far left” wouldn't support the permitting overhaul but that he was a bit dismayed at the level of GOP opposition, as he acknowledged “it doesn’t pass without the Republicans.”

"I've never seen stranger bedfellows than [Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.] and the extreme liberal left siding up with the Republican leadership,” he said. 

Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, was the first to come out against Manchin’s proposal being attached to the stopgap funding measure. 

Manchin said Republicans shouldn't wait for a better opportunity to overhaul permitting laws given they they won control of Congress and the White House in 2016 and didn't enact anything on the topic. He pointed out that even if Republicans win control of the House and Senate in this November's midterms, they’ll still have to deal with President Joe Biden.

“That’s not going to go anywhere,” he said. “And it’s proven that if you run the table in 2024, you can’t do what you couldn’t do in 2016. So when do you ever see you’re going to change the permitting?” 

‘Makes me sick’

Manchin wouldn’t predict whether he’ll have enough GOP support to pass his permitting bill. But he admitted there’s a “quandary” because of Republican leadership urging opposition given that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed to give Manchin the permitting vote only because of his support for the climate law.  

“They’re going to vote, and it’s going to be in the CR,” Manchin said of Republicans. “And if they’re willing to say we’re going to close down the government because of a personal attack on me or basically not looking at the good of the country — this is what makes people sick about politics. It makes me sick about it.”

Schumer reiterated Tuesday he would attach Manchin’s proposal to the stopgap bill, adding that the Senate would "get it done.”

“There’s no reason Republicans shouldn’t support it,” he said.

Republicans have rallied behind an alternative permitting overhaul that Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced last week. Manchin said he has talked to Capito and “she says it's a messaging bill.”

Capito has 46 co-sponsors — none of them Democrats — well short of the 60 backers necessary to advance.

“Most of us would like to see genuine permitting reform,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. “It sounds like that is kind of a red line for the Democrats; whether they would ever accept this or not is unclear.”

In addition to the climate law politics, Republicans have been reluctant to lend support to Manchin’s effort since they haven’t seen details. While that could change on Wednesday, there’s also a sense among some Republicans that Manchin’s bill will fall short of the permit streamlining measures they prefer. 

“We understand, based on what we do know, that it's not very strong,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said Monday night.

On Tuesday, Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., didn't rule out backing what Manchin ultimately unveils, though he reiterated his preference for a “clean” stopgap bill.

“I don’t know how much and where all the opposition to the Manchin proposal is, but there’s going to be some; we’ll have to see where our caucus is on this,” Shelby said. “But I like as clean a CR as we can get.”

Shelby predicted action on the CR would “heat up” early next week.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he believes Republicans would give the Manchin bill a fair look, despite that party’s current posture.

“If revenge is your tactic around here, that’s a s---ty excuse,” Tester said. “Look at the bill, what it does, and make a decision based on its merits. And I think most of the Republicans will do that.”

Skepticism on both sides

Over 80 House Democrats have already come out against attaching permit streamlining provisions to the stopgap funding bill, before seeing the legislative text. There's skepticism on both sides of the aisle in that chamber about whether Manchin's proposal could pass.

"I just think Manchin's bill may not be able to make it. I think a clean CR with maybe Ukraine aid, maybe disaster relief aid, I think that would have a good chance at passage and maybe get some bipartisan support," House Rules ranking member Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Tuesday. “But I think once you put the Manchin bill in there, you raise questions on the Republican side and the Democratic side.”

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., on Tuesday said it “remains to be seen” whether the Manchin language would be attached. “I mean, there’s certainly a lot of people who've been vocally opposed, and Republicans in the Senate as well as Democrats in the Senate,” she said. “It’s got to get sorted out.”

Manchin dismissed concerns that House Democrats would strip the permitting measure from the CR even if the Senate were able to pass it. “I’ve had a great relationship with [Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.], and I trust her,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters he didn’t know the contents of Manchin’s bill but said the permitting dispute would not lead to a government shutdown.

“We’re going to pass the CR,” he said. “We’re going to be here as long as it takes. At 12 midnight … a week from Friday, the government shuts down. We’re not going to allow that to happen.”

Hoyer said the possibility of a CR vote this week is “50/50 at best,” with the House waiting to see what can pass the Senate, although it hasn’t been determined yet which chamber will vote first.

Although the stopgap deadline isn’t for 10 days, time starts to run very short once lawmakers leave town at the end of this week.

In observance of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, the Senate is out Monday, while the House is out both Monday and Tuesday.

While the House can move quickly in an afternoon to pass legislation, in the Senate, any one lawmaker can block a unanimous consent request to speed up the process and move debate swiftly to a final vote. And there are 14 Senate Republicans who signed a letter spearheaded by Mike Lee, R-Utah, opposing any stopgap bill that doesn't extend into the new calendar year.

Democrats and GOP leaders are currently eyeing a mid-December end date so they can come back after the midterms and wrap up a fiscal 2023 omnibus package and other outstanding business.

If debate drags out beyond Sept. 30 into a brief shutdown, however, there may not be a swift remedy. Schumer reiterated Tuesday the chamber wouldn’t be in session the first week of October, in observance of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.