Progressives ‘carbon-free push could stifle Democrats’ $ 3.5 trillion spending deal
A push by Senate Liberal Democrats to include a 100% carbon-free electricity standard in the party’s $ 3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” spending deal has emerged as a roadblock that could derail the deal and undermine a President Biden’s key national priority.
Democrats cannot risk losing a single vote in the evenly divided Senate if the package is to have any hope of reaching Biden’s desk. But the carbon crash is just one sign that keeping the 50 Senate Democrats in the fold seems like an impossible feat right now.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin III, the key moderate casting vote from the coal state of West Virginia, is already signaling that he is unlikely to endorse the clean electricity standard that Senate liberals are demanding.
“Anyone who moves in a direction they think they can go away and have no fossils [fuels], that’s wrong, ”said Mr. Manchin. “It won’t happen, it can’t happen.”
Manchin’s opposition stems from how the policy is likely to hurt domestic coal and natural gas production. The two resources, which are abundant in West Virginia, produce nearly two-thirds of all electricity consumed in the US, according to the Energy Information Administration.
A clean electricity standard, as championed by President Biden and progressive Democrats, would require electricity providers to achieve at least 80% clean energy by 2030, with the goal of 100% by 2035. A sharp decline in energy is inevitable. use of fossil fuels if the nation wants to achieve those goals.
“If my friends and colleagues think they can eliminate their path to a cleaner environment, it will never happen,” said Mr. Manchin.
Without Manchin and other centrists, hopes of using the budget reconciliation process to avoid Republican obstructionism would be dead. But Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York also faces a serious threat from his left flank.
Progressive Democrats have threatened to withdraw support for the reconciliation bill and the broader $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package unless it incorporates broad climate change initiatives.
For many progressives, it is vital to phase out fossil fuels from electricity generation, which accounts for 25% of all US greenhouse gas emissions.
A clean electricity standard is “the cornerstone of the practical and progressive transformation to a clean energy future that we urgently need,” said Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota.
The clean electricity splits could derail the $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation framework just a day after Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee reached a compromise.
While details remain scant, a summary of that agreement indicates that it points to a “bold and robust” expansion of the social safety net. The deal goes beyond what even Mr. Biden initially proposed.
Earlier this year, the White House suggested spending more than $ 1.9 trillion on “human infrastructure,” programs like job training for criminals and home care for the elderly as opposed to traditional highway construction and canal excavation programs. Senate Democrats, led by Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, however, expanded the deal significantly.
“I think we are moving forward on the most momentous legislation passed for workers since the 1930s,” said Sanders, a self-described socialist. “And it is the legislation that will ultimately ask the rich and large corporations to start paying their fair share.”
The package now includes long-sought liberal goals such as paid family leave, expanded access to child care, and free community college. The money is also used for racial justice programs and for local governments to implement broadband Internet services.
Raising the package price is a provision written by Mr. Sanders that expands Medicare benefits to cover dental, vision and hearing services. Mr. Sanders also secured a change to the program’s prescription drug pricing system.
It is unclear whether such provisions are allowed by the rules governing the reconciliation process within the Senate. Regardless, the deal faces great difficulties, as evidenced by the confrontation between Manchin and the progressives.
Biden himself seems to recognize how difficult it will be to get and keep the 50 Senate Democrats on board. On Wednesday, the president ventured to Capitol Hill to lobby for the proposal.
“Let’s do this,” Biden said before addressing a meeting with the entire Senate Democratic conference.