Washington Weekly: January 5, 2022
The Past Two Weeks in D.C.
On Tuesday, December 21, the Biden Administration approved the construction of two large solar farms to be placed in a desert in California’s Riverside County. The two projects would generate up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity, enough electricity for 132,000 homes. Approval for a third project in the same region is expected soon.
The day following Joe Manchin’s bizarre announcement on Fox News that he would not support the current iteration of the Build Back Better Act (more on that below), the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which represents West Virginia coal miners, released a statement urging Manchin to reverse his position on the BBB Act. The statement was somewhat surprising given the strong environmental provisions in the House version of the BBB Act that would, among other things, transition the country away from coal, and might prove to have some influence over the senator since West Virginia is the nation’s largest coal state.
In a bit of international climate news, Chile announced last week that it has elected 155 of its citizens to convene a Constitutional Convention where they will rewrite their constitution to codify efforts to combat climate change into their national ethos. The announcement comes on the heels of a December 19 election in which the country of 19 million elected a liberal, 35-year-old former student activist to be their next president.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
In late December, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (WV) made a surprise appearance on the ultra-conservative Fox News to announce that he would not be supporting the Build Back Better Act – news that was clearly a shock to the White House and most Democrats.
For months, Senator Manchin had been holding the legislation hostage, almost single-handedly preventing his party from passing the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda. More troubling, his holdout has kept the country from enacting extremely urgent climate legislation, as well as critically-needed government support for tens of millions of poor and middle class Americans – policies that have consistently garnered support from a vast majority of citizens.
Throughout 2021, however, despite frustrations, most Democratic colleagues and prognosticators alike had assumed that negotiations were moving forward, and the West Virginia senator would ultimately back some version of the package. His comments, therefore, caused understandable anger among many policymakers and climate experts.
Much of that anger stems from the fact that this moment may be the last chance we have to pass major climate legislation that will keep the most horrific outcomes from happening. Voicing this sentiment, Leah Stokes, a climate political scientist at UC-Santa Barbara who has been one of the key experts advising Democrats on the climate provisions of the bill, recently stated that, “We won’t be acting on the climate crisis if we don’t pass this bill, and there’s not a decade left to waste.”
As Congress returns to Washington this week, much remains unclear about the path forward for the BBB Act. While Sen. Manchin’s announcement is still fresh on the minds of many, it appears clear that he may still be open to further negotiations that would allow for its passage in the coming weeks or months. Encouragingly, Manchin made comments on Tuesday that show signs that he supports many climate aspects of the bill, stating: “The climate thing is one that we can probably come to an agreement much easier than anything else… there’s lots of good things in there.”
As it stands, one of four scenarios seem most likely:
- The bill – which has already been slashed from $6 trillion to $3.5 trillion to $1.7 trillion in order to appease Senator Manchin – is further reduced in size and scope, but ultimately passes in some form;
- Manchin stays firm to his Fox News pledge and the bill fails;
- Given Manchin’s apparent interest in some of the climate provisions of the bill, the senate drafts new legislation that breaks out the climate aspects into its own bill, and that bill is voted on and passed; or
- Democrats, unable to pass the BBB Act via reconciliation thanks to Manchin, instead opt to include significant clean energy and environmental funding in various annual spending bills via the appropriations process – although this scenario would require Democrats and Republicans to agree on annual spending, something that was once a mundane process but in recent years has been anything but.
Whatever happens next, it won’t happen right away, as Senator Schumer has made clear that the senate’s first goal this year is to take up voting rights legislation – another major priority for Democrats (and organizations like Michigan LCV), as Republican-led state legislatures continue to tear apart the foundation of our democracy by passing onerous, unnecessary laws that limit voting rights for millions of people, mostly minorities, all across the country.
A Deeper Dive
Speaking of attacks on our democracy, tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Many events are planned in Washington to mark the tragic anniversary. On that day one year ago, a Trump-backed mob stormed the U.S. Capitol as congress met to certify Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election. The attack – the worst on our nation’s capitol since British forces entered and set fire to the building during the Chesapeake Campaign of the War of 1812 – left 5 dead, hundreds injured (including 138 police officers), congresspeople scrambling for their lives, and our democracy on the brink of collapse… All in the name of Trump’s “Big Lie.” For all of us horrified by last year’s attack, and the subsequent actions by Republican state legislatures to limit voting rights, take a moment tomorrow to reflect on the tragedy of that event, and what you can do to help combat these anti-democratic forces throughout our country in the new year and years to come. For their part to help save our democracy, senate Democrats are moving ahead with voting rights legislation, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) vowing to hold a vote no later than January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (in a nod to the late civil rights leader’s championing the issue of fair elections for all citizens), to change senate rules regarding the filibuster in order to pass voting rights measures if Republicans continue to block them.
Thanks for reading, stay safe, and have a great week.