On Thursday, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said he could not support the sweeping climate legislation proposed by Democrats as part of a reconciliation vote for President Biden's sweeping domestic agenda.
As confirmed by both the Associated Press and the Washington Post, Manchin will oppose his own party’s proposed economic package due to its inclusion of higher taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and funding for climate initiatives.
Negotiations between Senate Democrats led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Manchin have dragged on for months. Schumer and Democrats made a number of concessions to scale back climate provisions to appease Manchin, whose support is crucial in an evenly decided Senate. All to no avail.
Concessions included cutting subsidies for electric vehicles, nixxing direct payments to companies that produce consumer clean energy, and even supporting permitting reform for more drilling according to a Democrat briefed before the talks.
The news was met with shock and outrage from fellow Democrats and climate activists alike.
"I'm not going to sugar coat my disappointment here, especially since nearly all issues in the climate and energy space had been resolved," Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, whose committee had jurisdiction over the clean energy tax credits and corporate tax provisions, said in a statement.
"This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic—and costly—effects of climate change. We can't come back in another decade and forestall hundreds of billions—if not trillions—in economic damage and undo the inevitable human toll," the Oregon Democrat added.
According to the New York Times, Schumer and his staff were “shellshocked,” to learn of Machin’s reneged vote. Just a few hours prior, they believed that the deal was possible. The news comes as a harsh blow because without action by Congress, it will be increasingly difficult for the Biden administration to cut U.S. emissions in half by the end of the decade, a vital target to reach the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.
“The world is literally burning up while he joins every single Republican to stop strong action,” Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota said of Manchin's decision.
Originally set at more tha $500 million, Manchin sought to shave down the energy package to $300 billion or less. Schumer even offered an energy deal to Manchin that didn’t include cooperate tax increases, but the Virginia Senator refused.
Activists and advisors have accused Manchin of “stringing negotiators along,” while watering down provisions at various stages of the proposal that at the time, would’ve put significant dents in fossil fuel emissions.
As the Post notes, this marks the second time Senator Manchin has withstood a Democrat-negotiated economic package. Last year, Manchin opposed President Joe Biden’s ambitious $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, reportedly saying he wouldn’t even support it by half, and later withdrew his support for the pared-down $1.75 trillion version.
As reported by AP, Manchin told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer he is only interested in legislation “limited to curbing pharmaceutical prices and extending federal subsidies for buying health care coverage.” Notably, the Build Back Better Act that Manchin voted against included such provisions.
According to Sam Runyon, a spokesperson for Manchin, the senator is concerned the proposed package will only worsen inflation and hurt the American middle class.
“Political headlines are of no value to the millions of Americans struggling to afford groceries and gas as inflation soars to 9.1%,” Runyon said. “Senator Manchin believes it’s time for leaders to put political agendas aside, reevaluate and adjust to the economic realities the country faces to avoid taking steps that add fuel to the inflation fire.”
Despite the claims for having public interests at heart, Democrats have already made numerous changes to the bill that, according to Rolling Stone, would've had measurable, positive impacts on Americans’ financial stability. Such measures included creating federal paid family and medical leave, the establishment of free prekindergarten, and the extension of tax breaks to low-income individuals.
Moreover, there is skepticism surrounding his argument that spending more worsens inflation. Evergreen Action co-founder Jamal Raad told CNN, "He's not even about solving inflation because the major driver of inflation was gas prices, and he decided we should invest more in fossil fuels.”
The proposed package includes $375 billion for climate change and clean energy initiatives. Manchin has long voiced his disapproval for the package. His contempt for climate change funding runs deep. Senator Manchin, who has millions of dollars tied up in Enersystems, a private coal brokerage he founded in 1988, now run by his son, is also the biggest recipient of political donations from the oil and gas industry.
“It seems odd that Senator Manchin would choose as his legacy to be the one man who single-handedly doomed humanity,” John Podesta, founder of the liberal Center for American Progress, told AP.
Climate advocates reacted with similar anger.
"This is nothing short of a death sentence," Varshini Prakash, co-founder of youth climate group Sunrise Movement, said in a statement. "It's clear appealing to corporate obstructionists doesn't work, and it will cost us a generation of voters.”