Washington Weekly: October 6, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
Build Back Better Updates
- As anticipated, Speaker Pelosi delayed a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday, after initially announcing that a vote would be held. With the large Progressive Caucus threatening to vote against the bill until the larger social spending bill is simultaneously ready for a vote (and insured of passage by moderates), the Speaker did not have the votes to pass the infrastructure bill that has already passed in the Senate.
- Negotiations continue this week amongst moderate and progressive Democrats over how much to include in the social spending bill. Moderate Senator Joe Manchin has declared his spending limit to be $1.5 trillion, while progressives continue to call for much more spending on climate change, expansion of medicare, free community college, universal pre-K, and more.
- On Monday, President Biden convened a virtual meeting with roughly a dozen progressive Democrats to try to come to an agreement over how much to include in the bill. Reportedly, the President suggested a number between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion, which progressives countered with a minimum of $2.5 trillion to cover all critically needed programs.
Yesterday, President Biden made his third presidential visit to Michigan, this time stopping in Howell, in the heart of traditionally conservative Livingston County, to promote the bipartisan infrastructure bill as well as the larger Build Back Better plan and how it will better the lives of everyday Americans. Part of his strategy to visit Howell (a traditional Republican stronghold but currently represented by moderate Democrat Elissa Slotkin) is to prove that his agenda is popular even in areas represented by Democrats expecting close re-election campaigns in 2022.
Last Thursday, Governor Whitmer and a bipartisan group of midwestern governors from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Indiana signed a Regional Electric Vehicle for the Midwest (REV Midwest) Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to mutually accelerate vehicle electrification throughout the Midwest. The agreement will help increase access to charging stations in hopes of reducing consumers’ anxiety about buying electric due to lack of stations. The plan is also estimated to create 105,000 in the utility sector by 2030.
Over the weekend, a pipeline owned by Amplify Energy operating off the coast of Huntington Beach, California spilled over 126,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. While the reasons for the spill remain unknown (a ship anchor is a distinct possibility), this latest pipeline-related disaster has renewed calls to end offshore drilling once and for all.
As tensions rose during negotiations in Washington over the infrastructure package and the Build Back Better Agenda, we worked with more than 10 partner organizations to hold a rally at Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin’s Lansing office to send a clear message: We must pass the infrastructure package WITH the Build Back Better Agenda. Our Federal Government Affairs Director Bentley Johnson led the rally as the emcee. You can watch a recap of the event here.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
Having missed last Thursday’s deadline for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and with the House in recess for two weeks, the fate of both the infrastructure deal and the Build Back Better Act remains unknown — including how much funding, if any, congress will allot towards urgent climate change measures. Michigan, meanwhile, is moving ahead with many of its own plans to combat climate change, remove toxins from our drinking water, and create more climate-resilient infrastructure.
Last Wednesday, Governor Whitmer signed Michigan’s new $70 billion state budget that includes historic investments in child care and increased funding for the state police, municipal governments, and higher education. It also contains many climate and infrastructure measures, such as: $196 million for infrastructure projects, including climate resilient buildings, creating an estimated 2,500 jobs; $20 million to replace lead service lines in Benton Harbor, which is experiencing a drinking water contamination crisis; $14.3 million to help local governments prepare for climate change and extreme weather; $15 million for the Emergency Drinking Water Fund; and $14 million to remediate PFAS at contaminated sites.
While much more investment is needed to prepare Michigan for the impending climate crisis and limit the worst climate impacts — funding that will hopefully come out of Washington in the coming weeks — this budget represents a major step forward for our state that saw a summer filled with historic flooding and other extreme weather. It also serves as a win for many of the environmental priorities the Governor campaigned on, including addressing climate and clean water issues and infrastructure.
The President, however, faces uncertainty about the future of his own climate plans. With Republicans shamefully abdicating any responsibility to the future of humanity by not considering backing any climate change measures, a very small minority of Democrats, some with personal and political reasons to limit the scope of urgently-needed clean energy investments, wield outsized power over the president’s agenda, and thus the fate of our planet.
For all of the very real partisan divides and in-party squabbles in Michigan and in Washington, the Governor’s bipartisan budget that includes significant environmental measures proves that progress — even when bipartisanship is required — is possible. Or, as the Governor put it last week, “a divided government doesn’t have to be a dysfunctional government.”
In Washington, divided but not dysfunctional remains an elusive reality. The fact is, President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda remains widely popular with the public, including many Republican and independent voters. Even if Republican legislators cannot bring themselves to support the administration’s climate measures for purely political reasons, despite warnings by the global scientific community of catastrophic consequences, Democrats must come together and pass the full climate agenda as soon as possible.
A Deeper Dive
While negotiations continue over how much to spend on urgent climate change and social spending measures, much of the blame for the infighting and delayed votes is rightly being placed on one man: Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Author, climate expert, and Rolling Stone contributor Jeff Goodell penned a scathing opinion piece last week in which he stated that Senator Manchin, by refusing to thus far support the urgently needed climate policies at necessary spending levels outlined in the Build Back Better Act, has, quite literally, “cooked the planet.” Mr. Goodell goes on to describe the Senator’s potential legacy — a man who, when the critical moment came to subvert the worst climate outcomes, instead “chose to condemn virtually every living creature on Earth to a hellish future of suffering, hardship, and death.”
Of course, much of the blame must also go to Republicans, who have for years denied the existence of climate change, at times going to comical lengths to continue their charade, and still refuse to support any of the Build Back Better climate policies despite extremely clear scientific evidence of catastrophic outcomes in the near future without their passage.
Yet, if we must take it as a given that no Republican will lift a finger to save our planet or future generations, Senator Manchin’s stubborn refusal to support legislation backed by almost the entire Democratic caucus, a significant majority of the American people, and a majority of residents in his own right-leaning state is as repugnant as Republican’s actions (or lack thereof).
The sad reality, which Goodell points out, is that Manchin could use his strong negotiating position another way — to agree to the full $3.5 trillion package in exchange for a promise that his home state will receive significant clean energy investments. This leadership would help move West Virginia away from reliance on the dying coal industry and into clean tech, securing their economy as a clean energy hub for decades to come — while, simultaneously, saving our planet and everything living on it. We can only hope that he can be convinced very quickly to pivot to his stance.