Manchin ends the pipeline crackdown, easing the way for spending

KEVIN FRACKING – Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has abandoned for now his push to speed up the permitting process for energy projects, easing the way for the Senate to pass a temporary spending bill that would keep the federal government running after the fiscal year ends at midnight Friday.

Tuesday’s procedural vote to advance the funding bill passed easily, 72-23, after Democrats announced that the West Virginia senator’s proposal would be excluded from the final law. It was clear that with Manchin’s plan included, Democrats lacked the 60 votes needed to proceed, as most Republicans opposed it.

While lawmakers again wait until the final moments of the fiscal year to pass legislation to keep the government running, they are confident they will. Neither party is interested in a shutdown ahead of the crucial Nov. 8 midterm elections that will determine which party will control the House and Senate.

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In addition to government funding, the spending measure provides about $12.3 billion in Ukraine-related aid, including training, equipment, weapons and direct financial support to the government of Ukraine. The aid would be on top of about $53 billion that Congress had already approved in two previous bills.

The measure eliminates the White House’s call for $22 billion to fight COVID-19 and $3.9 billion to fight the monkeypox virus outbreak. Republican lawmakers were overwhelmingly opposed to health care funding. At least 10 Republican senators must support the measure to clear procedural hurdles and advance to the chamber.

The most controversial piece of legislation has been Manchin’s plan to streamline the permitting process for energy projects and make it easier for pipeline projects in his home state and Virginia.

In a statement, Manchin confirmed that he had asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to remove the authorization language and said he stands by his belief that “we should never come to the brink of a government shutdown over politics.”

Manchin said he was willing to work with colleagues to move forward with the permitting legislation at another time.

“Senator Manchin, I and others will continue to talk about the best way to ensure that responsible permitting reform is passed before the end of the year,” Schumer said.

White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre said: “We support Senator Manchin’s decision not to press for a vote” and vowed that the administration “will continue to work with him to find a way to get this bill up and passed.” and to the president’s desk.”

Both houses of Congress must approve the legislation by Friday, which is the end of the fiscal year, to avert a partial government shutdown. It’s the last piece of unfinished business for lawmakers midterm elections in November. Lawmakers from both parties are looking to wrap up and spend time on the campaign trail, reducing the risk of a federal shutdown.

Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, secured a commitment from President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders to hold a vote on the authorization package in exchange for his support landmark climate change law.

While Republicans have spoken out in favor of streamlining the permitting process for energy projects, some, including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, have opposed the effort.

“What our fellow Democrats have created is a fake fig leaf that will effectively defeat the cause of real permitting reform,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

McConnell said he would vote against the short-term spending bill if it included Manchin’s legislation and encouraged others to vote against it as well, a powerful signal to GOP lawmakers.

Other Republicans have made it clear they agree with McConnell’s position.

Top Democratic appropriators also said they were unhappy with the inclusion of Manchin’s proposal, but said keeping the government running took priority.

“I am disappointed that unrelated permit reform was attached to this bill. This is a contentious issue that should be debated substantively,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “However, with four days left in the fiscal year, we cannot risk a government shutdown; we need to work on advancing this bill.”

The language in Manchin’s proposal was tied to Art Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will run through West Virginia and Virginia for more than 300 miles. The bill would effectively approve the pipeline and send legal challenges to another federal court.

Sen. Tim Kaine, R-Virginia, was poised to vote against the funding package if it included pipeline language, another sign lawmakers lacked the 60 votes needed to proceed.

“We must pass a continuing resolution that does not have an unprecedented and dangerous pipeline deal,” Kaine said.

Environmental organizations celebrated their hard-won victory.

“It’s good to get rid of Manchin’s dirty backroom deal and the politics it represented on his part,” said Jin Soo, director of energy at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The funding bill also includes disaster relief, including $2.5 billion to help New Mexico communities recover after a natural disaster Hermit Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, the largest wildfire in state history; $2 billion for a block grant program to help economic recovery in communities affected by recent disasters, and $20 million for water and Sewer infrastructure improvements previously authorized in Jackson, Mississippi.

The bill also provides an additional $1 billion for a program that helps low-income families afford to heat their homes.

There was broad bipartisan support for increased support for Ukraine. The bill includes $4.5 billion to help the government of Ukraine provide basic services to its citizens and authorizes the president to withdraw $3.7 billion in equipment from the US stockpile to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine. There is also money to replenish American stockpiles of equipment and ammunition sent to Ukraine, and to provide Ukraine with intelligence support and training.

During the vote, the White House issued a statement in support of the temporary spending bill, applauding aid to Ukraine.

“The people of Ukraine have inspired the world, and the administration remains committed to supporting the Ukrainian people, who continue to stand firm and show extraordinary courage in the face of a full-scale Russian invasion,” the White House said.

Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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