With only weeks left before the deadline, what Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia wants in the package remains difficult to determine. Manchin resumed talks with the White House weeks ago about the contours of a easing package to fight inflation, raise corporate taxes and fund clean energy investments — but those talks have yet to produce an agreement.
Manchin raised eyebrows on Monday by convening a bipartisan group of senators to try to find areas of agreement on energy security and climate change.
“Monday’s meeting was an attempt to gauge bipartisan interest in a path forward that meets our nation’s energy and climate security needs,” Manchin spokesman Sam Runyon told CNN in a statement.
North Dakota Senator Kevin Kramer, the only Republican at Monday’s meeting, told CNN he believes Manchin has shifted to a bipartisan approach on energy, rather than relying on the White House to negotiate a deal with him.
But Manchin himself told reporters after leaving a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday that the bipartisan talks did not necessarily replace climate or clean energy terms in a slimmer reconciliation bill. Manchin said these provisions would remain a “big factor” in any reconciliation bill.
Whether the Mansion bipartisan energy talks amount to anything, the additional delay they could cause worries Democratic senators who are watching the clock until Memorial Day — the unofficial deadline for a deal.
“I’m all for a bipartisan where we can find it, but time is of the essence,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, told CNN in a statement. “We can’t wait another decade to pass legislation that averts the worst climate catastrophes.”
veering in the direction of bipartisanship
At this point, if the Democrats can pass anything, it will be a bill designed by Manchin. But few Democrats know exactly what Manchin will agree to, beyond broad outlines.
But the finer points of what could make Manchin achieve a “yes” are still anyone’s guess, and further complicated by a bipartisan group meeting of Manchin to discuss energy and energy security. This meeting came after Manchin went on a trip to Alaska with Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski during the Senate recess.
“When he came back after spending the whole week with Lisa, he was focused on whether there was a bipartisan path forward,” a source close to Manchin said.
Hope for a bipartisan solution has been echoed by Ohio-based American Electric Power CEO Nick Akins, who is close to Manchin and told CNN in a recent interview that he believes any energy bill going forward will be bipartisan.
“I think it has to be bipartisan,” Akins said. “I think it’s going to be very difficult, especially with the environment we’re in today with Senator Manchin obviously worried about deficits and inflation, and they’re looking for some kind of tax allowance while others – Sinema for example – – are against taxes,” he said. Moderate Democratic Senator Kirsten Sinema of Arizona. And Akins added, “It’s really a very difficult proposition.”
While Sinema opposes raising the corporate tax rate, she has signaled an openness to other changes in the tax code to push the bill for a slimmer settlement.
Another lobbyist close to Mansion’s team said they are watching the bipartisan talks closely, but cautioned that if no deal is reached by Memorial Day, no bill is likely to be revived.
“Unless there’s real progress by Memorial Day, it won’t,” the lobbyist said. “The news about Manchin and Murkowski is important. I think they know each other very well, they are good friends, and they have a track record of doing something.”
Democrats are frustrated with complications and delays
Some climate advocates are finding a glimmer of hope in the fact that energy and climate remain a focal point of Mansion’s talks, unlike many of the social programs it has scrapped from any deal.
“We try to be supportive of all conversations, because one of them has to work,” said Colin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation. But O’Mara was also skeptical that Republicans could agree with Manchin on things like tax increases — a major sticking point in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“I am much less confident that we can reach an agreement on the payment side,” O’Mara said.
Many Senate Democrats say the bipartisan talks are an unnecessary distraction, and there’s no way a clean energy tax package can garner 10 Republican votes — especially months before the midterms.
“Technologically neutral tax incentives are among the most favorable climate policy options for Republicans that can reasonably meet our needs to reduce emissions, yet we have received only united Republican opposition” to the clean energy tax reform package, Wyden told CNN.
If nothing else, Democrats say they don’t have time for Manchin to test things out in a bipartisan deal.
“This is our last and best chance to take action, and whether or not we fall completely in the hands of Mansion,” a top Democratic aide told CNN. “It would be great if Manchin could use his words and say, ‘I can’t do that, I can’t do that.’ But that’s not what we get.”
For members running for reelection, the urgency to do something to lower gas prices, curb inflation, and reform the tax code is even greater. Senator Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat for re-election this year, has argued that one of his top priorities will be lowering prescription drug prices, something Democrats have enjoyed including the Better Rebuilding Plan that Manchin torpedoed in December.
But Kelly played down the importance that passing the legislation would have an impact on his election.
“You know I’ve served in organizations that have missions and goals and worked toward that,” Kelly said. “It was pretty simple…this place doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t work well.” “I think it’s important that we get these things done for the American people. I don’t think the White House knows exactly what Senator Manchin wants to do about anything specific, that’s not my concern.”