Manchin Appears To Throw Cold Water On Key To Democrats’ Climate Plan

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks in a hallway near the Senate Subway on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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September 13, 2021 11:48 a.m.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) continued his media tour seemingly crafted to cause Democrats agita on Sunday, where he threw cold water on the crux of their climate plan. 

“It makes no sense to me at all to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do as the market transitions,” Manchin said Sunday on CNN. 

He seemed to root his opposition to the Clean Electricity Payment Program (rechristened the Clean Electricity Performance Program by the House) in the reality that many utilities have already begun upping the percentage of electricity they get from cleaner sources of their own accord. 

The whole point of the CEPP is to expedite that transition with monetary incentives and penalties if utilities fall short of annual goals, part of President Joe Biden’s goal to achieve 80 percent clean electricity by 2030. As the desire for cleanly sourced electricity rises, the hope is, there will be a corresponding build-out of renewable production to green the electrical grid. 

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Worryingly for those invested in legislation to beat back climate change, Manchin heads the Senate committee that’s in charge of crafting the CEPP.

But even against a backdrop of catastrophic floods, hurricanes and wildfires just this summer, Manchin remained unmoved on both the Democrats’ signature climate proposal and the reconciliation package at large. 

“Where’s the urgency?” he asked on CNN, arguing that the bipartisan infrastructure bill — which deals mostly with physical infrastructure improvements and contains very few of Democrats’ climate proposals — is the “most urgent thing we have to do.” 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has not taken up the small bipartisan infrastructure deal, because keeping it linked with the reconciliation package is key to passing both pieces of legislation. Manchin and moderates in the House have tried to torpedo that strategy, insisting that their preferred bill be passed alone, leaving the fate of the other uncertain. House progressives, though, have flexed their leverage in response, threatening to kill the bipartisan deal if there’s a vote on it before the Senate passes a reconciliation package. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) used that leverage in a CNN interview shortly after Manchin’s.

“Mr. Manchin, I know, worked very hard on the bipartisan bill,” he said. “It would be a terrible thing for the American people if both of those bills fail. They are linked together. They’re going to go forward together.”

Sanders reminded viewers that progressives had already swallowed a compromise, bringing the initially $6 trillion reconciliation package down to $3.5 trillion. 

Manchin had said in his CNN interview that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) knows he won’t have Manchin’s vote on a $3.5 trillion package; the West Virginia senator has suggested a drastic cut, to $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion as something he’d accept. 

Adding to speculation that Manchin is just posturing, or building up his own centrist bona fides, Manchin has changed his rationale for shrinking the package in the disparate media hits: sometimes “runaway inflation,” sometimes not knowing how the COVID-19 pandemic will unfold in the future, sometimes that Congress already passed a COVID-19 aid package.

He even threatened the deadline Democrats are racing towards in two weeks to finish the reconciliation package, so the Senate can potentially pass it before Pelosi has to bring the bipartisan bill up for a vote in accordance with a deal she cut with the rebelling moderates earlier this month. 

“There’s no way we can get this done by the 27th if we do our job,” Manchin declared.

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