WASHINGTON ― Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) threw up another roadblock to President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, potentially dealing his party a massive setback ahead of the November midterm elections and dashing hopes for meaningful action to combat climate change.
The West Virginia senator informed Democratic leaders Thursday that he won’t support any new spending for green energy investments — or tax hikes on the wealthy or corporations to pay for it ― until the next consumer spending report is released for the month of July.
“Let’s wait until that comes out, so we know we’re going down a path that won’t be inflationary,” Manchin told West Virginia radio host Hoppy Kercheval.
Democrats were pushing to seal an agreement on a scaled-back measure by August, before the Senate leaves town for its annual monthlong recess, in order to stave off health insurance premium increases that are scheduled to kick in that month. More delays could also make it difficult to pass the bill via a party-line vote before a Sept. 30 fiscal year deadline.
Manchin told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that he is only willing to support a proposal to lower prescription drug prices, as well as a temporary, two-year extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies to help keep health insurance costs from increasing this year.
“It’s not prudent to do the other right now,” he said Friday, referring to climate provisions sought by Democrats.
Cracks in the negotiations were apparent Wednesday when Manchin, responding to the latest skyrocketing inflation numbers, complained that more government spending would only drive prices even higher and that “leaders in Washington” needed to heed his warnings.
Democrats were relying on billions in added revenue from a proposal that would have closed tax loopholes to offset the cost of the bill and bring the deficit down, as Manchin had insisted on. But Manchin backed off his previous support for that tax increase on businesses, according to a Democrat briefed on the conversations between him and Schumer.
Environmentalists view the legislative package as the last chance for meaningful action on climate in the next decade, which scientists have warned is a critical window for action. Leading climate hawks in Congress responded by calling on President Joe Biden to take executive action to fight climate change.
“With legislative climate options now closed, it’s now time for executive Beast Mode,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tweeted, laying out a list of steps he said Biden should take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s unclear whether such action would survive a legal challenge. The conservative 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, for example, recently curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.
Democrats will now be forced to choose whether to accept the scaled-back, health care-focused proposal Manchin has endorsed, or scrap the effort entirely. They need all 50 Senate Democrats on board to pass a bill under the budget “reconciliation” process that allows them to sidestep a GOP filibuster.
“If we can’t move forward as we had hoped, we need to salvage as much of this package as possible,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement. “The expression that failure is not an option is overused, but failure really is not an option here.”
This round of negotiations was a do-over after Manchin withdrew his support late last year for the $2 trillion Build Back Better Act, which Biden had endorsed.
Manchin has been negotiating with Schumer on a scaled-back domestic spending package totaling about $1 trillion, half of which would go toward deficit reduction.
The negotiations were part of a hoped-for drive to deliver on promises that won Democrats the House, the Senate and the White House in 2020.
Despite the breakdown in negotiations, which have dragged on in various stages for over a year, Manchin insisted Friday that he is still open to a deal.
“We can come back the first of September and pass this legislation ― if it’s a good piece of legislation,” Manchin said.
“I want climate, I want energy policy,” he maintained.