To fight, or not to fight? Progressive Caucus warily eyes Manchin’s energy deal

To fight, or not to fight? Progressive Caucus warily eyes Manchin’s energy deal

Plenty of Congressional Progressive Caucus members detest a Joe Manchin-backed energy deal enough to join a bloc threatening government funding over it. The group itself, though, is still debating whether to join the bigger fight.

Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) this week presented a draft statement to fellow liberals that would have spelled out opposition to the energy permitting bill Manchin crafted. That permitting plan is on track to get linked to a stopgap government spending bill after Manchin struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in exchange for his vote on the party’s marquee tax, climate and health care bill.

But when Jayapal laid out that option Tuesday night, several other liberal Democrats spoke up against any further action — warning it could be seen as dramatically escalating the situation when the party’s under pressure to stay unified before the midterms — according to multiple people who listened in. At times, the discussion grew strained about the best way to articulate their opposition without drawing their full group into a funding standoff just hours after Democrats celebrated their recent legislative success at the White House.

In an interview on Thursday, Jayapal said the statement was among a range of options that the Progressive Caucus could pursue amid growing liberal angst against Manchin’s proposal. “I didn’t propose a statement. I proposed a range of options and I drafted a statement in case we wanted to do something, what would it look like? And we had a great discussion, and somebody is stirring up a pot when there isn’t a pot to stir.”

Other Progressive Caucus Democrats said they decided not to issue a formal statement because it would have been superfluous: Fifty-plus progressives had already signed onto a letter from House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) that informed party leaders of their stern opposition to the Manchin plan — which they suggested could affect their votes on government funding later this month.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who signed the letter, said it wasn’t necessary for Progressive Caucus leaders to say more because progressives have already made clear they’re unified in wanting Democratic leaders to split energy permitting from the funding bill.

“You just don’t take those absolute positions when everything is still moving,” Huffman said. “There is very broad consensus that we don’t want to see the [stopgap spending bill] hijacked by this very controversial energy side deal.”

Huffman said he has a conversation scheduled with Schumer in the coming days to discuss permitting, part of a range of phone calls the Senate Democratic leader is making to win over progressives.

The decision for Progressive Caucus leaders to stay out of the fray, at least for now, comes as Democrats are attempting to buckle down in the final two months before the midterms, with many in the party careful not to disturb their political momentum.

“I just think that as a party, we’re hitting a stride right now,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), when asked if she would vote against a government funding bill with permitting provisions attached. “We passed the Inflation Reduction Act. We just averted a major showdown with the rail carriers. I think we’re proving and showing that the governance here is strong.”

Other progressives added that even if they felt strongly about the permitting issue, they had to draw the line at brinkmanship on funding.

“I absolutely don’t feel like this is worth shutting down the government over,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who represents the suburbs of D.C., home to many federal employees. “As a Democrat, after a summer of wonderful successes, why would we want to go into an election season with a major failure?”

Another major motivation for the Progressive Caucus to refrain from its own statement on the issue is timing. Several Democrats said they preferred to wait until Manchin released his proposal — and Senate leadership revealed their plans to advance it — before weighing in.

“I haven’t taken a definitive position because I don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), a senior progressive who also chairs the House Transportation Committee.

He said he spoke in Thursday’s Progressive Caucus meeting because of his committee’s jurisdiction over permitting. While he’s not necessarily opposed to an overhaul — which also stands to boost renewable energy projects — he didn’t see the stopgap government funding bill as the proper vehicle for it.

“I think it is something that would have to be carefully negotiated to do any kind of permanent reform,” DeFazio said. “And I don’t think it lends itself to a Senate dictate that is jammed in a [continuing resolution].”

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are keeping up the pressure on Democrats to split the permitting bill from must-pass funding legislation.

A group of nearly 20 progressive groups, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Oil Change International, launched a new “name and shame” campaign Thursday calling on more Democrats to push for separating the Manchin-backed plan from any must-pass bill, listing the members who signed the Grijavla letter and those who didn’t.

“We’ve left the door open to the possibility of some adjustments but as a whole we think it would be a rollback of important environmental gains we’ve made,” said Rep. Chuy García (D-Ill.), who has signed the critical letter. “We don’t want to divide the caucus and we are waiting to see if any other developments occur.”

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Author: By Sarah Ferris, Josh Siegel and Nicholas Wu