Tue, Sep 27, 2022 8:14 PM
By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has abandoned, for now, his push to speed up the permitting process for energy projects, easing the Senate’s path toward passing a stopgap spending bill that would keep the federal government running when the fiscal year ends at midnight Friday.
A procedural vote Tuesday advancing the funding bill succeeded easily, 72-23, after Democrats announced that the West Virginia senator's proposal would be stripped from the final legislation. It was clear that, with Manchin's plan included, Democrats were falling far short of the 60 votes needed to proceed, as most Republicans objected to it.
While lawmakers are again waiting to the final moments of the fiscal year to pass legislation keeping the government running, they are confident they will do so. Neither party is interested in a shutdown heading into the critical midterm elections Nov. 8 that will determine which party is in charge of the House and Senate.
In addition to government funding, the spending measure provides about $12.3 billion in assistance related to Ukraine, including training, equipment, weapons and direct financial support for the Ukraine government. The assistance would be on top of some $53 billion Congress has already approved through two previous bills.
The measure excludes the White House call for spending $22 billion to respond to COVID-19, and $3.9 billion to fight against an outbreak of the monkeypox virus. Republican lawmakers were overwhelmingly opposed to the health funding. At least 10 Republican senators would have to support the measure to overcome procedural hurdles and advance in that chamber.
The most contentious piece of the legislation was Manchin’s plan to streamline the permitting process for energy projects and make it easier for a pipeline project in his home state and Virginia to proceed.
Manchin in a statement confirmed he had asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to remove the permitting language and said he was holding to his belief that “we should never come to the brink of a government shutdown over politics."
Manchin said he was ready to work with colleagues to move forward with permitting legislation at another time.
“Senator Manchin, myself and others will continue to have conversations about the best way to ensure responsible permitting reform is passed before the end of the year," Schumer said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We support Senator Manchin’s decision not to press for a floor vote" and promised the administration “will continue to work with him to find a vehicle to bring this bill to the floor and get it passed and to the President’s desk.”
Both chambers of Congress must approve legislation by Friday, which is the end of the fiscal year, to prevent a partial government shutdown. It represents the last bit of unfinished business for lawmakers before the midterm elections in November. Lawmakers from both parties are eager to wrap up and spend time on the campaign trail, lowering the risk of a federal stoppage.
Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, had secured a commitment from President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders to have a vote on the permitting package in return for his support of a landmark law to curb climate change.
While Republicans have voiced support for streamlining the permitting process for energy projects, some, including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, panned the effort.
“What our Democratic colleagues have produced is a phony fig leaf that would actually set back the cause of real permitting reform," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
McConnell said he would vote against proceeding to the short-term spending bill if it included Manchin's legislation and encouraged others to vote no, too, a powerful signal to GOP lawmakers.
Other Republicans made clear they agreed with McConnell's position.
Top Democratic appropriators also said they were unhappy with the inclusion of Manchin's proposal, but said keeping the government running took priority.
“I am disappointed that unrelated permitting reform was attached to this bill. This is a controversial matter that should be debated on its own merits," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “However, with four days left in the fiscal year, we cannot risk a government shutdown; we must work to advance this bill."
Language in Manchin's proposal was tied to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run through West Virginia and Virginia for more than 300 miles. The bill would have effectively approved the pipeline and steered legal challenges to a different federal court.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was poised to vote against taking up the funding package if it included the pipeline language, another sign that lawmakers didn't have the 60 votes needed to proceed.
“We should pass a continuing resolution that is free of the unprecedented and dangerous" pipeline deal, Kaine said.
Environmental groups celebrated the hard-earned victory.
“Good riddance to Manchin’s dirty backroom deal and the bottom-of-the-barrel politics that it represented,” said Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The funding bill also contains disaster assistance, including $2.5 billion to help New Mexico communities recover from the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, the largest wildfire in the state’s history; $2 billion for a block grant program that aids the economic recovery of communities impacted by recent disasters and $20 million for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements previously authorized for Jackson, Mississippi.
The bill would also provide an additional $1 billion for a program that helps low income households afford to heat their homes.
There has been wide, bipartisan support for boosting support for Ukraine. The bill includes $4.5 billion to help Ukraine's government provide basic citizen services and authorizes the president to drawdown $3.7 billion worth of equipment from U.S. stocks to support Ukraine's armed forces. There's also money to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment and munitions sent to Ukraine and to provide Ukraine with intelligence support and training.
The White House issued a statement in support of the stopgap spending bill as the voting took place, applauding the help for Ukraine.
“The people of Ukraine have inspired the world, and the Administration remains committed to supporting the Ukrainian people as they continue to stand resolute and display extraordinary courage in the face of Russia’s full-scale invasion," the White House said.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.