A Slimmed-Down Biden Plan With Climate Focus Divides Progressives

Jan 20, 2022 by Bloomberg
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Progressives are divided over President Joe Biden’s willingness to break off $550 billion in climate spending from his moribund Build Back Better plan as separate legislation, despite the popularity of the provisions.

Progressives are divided over President Joe Biden’s willingness to break off $550 billion in climate spending from his moribund Build Back Better plan as separate legislation, despite the popularity of the provisions.

Biden cracked the door open to breaking up his signature spending bill as a means of overcoming objections to the broader measure from Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, pivotal votes in the evenly divided chamber.

“I think we can break the package up, get as much as we can now, and come back and fight for the rest later,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. He singled out the bill’s energy and climate spending as an area that could be passed on its own.

The climate provisions of the bill would fund new and expanded tax credits for renewable power, nuclear plants, biofuels and clean-energy manufacturing. While there is support for those features, de-linking them from progressive must-haves like an expanded child tax credit could sap support in the narrowly divided Congress and set off more intra-party squabbling that turns off voters. 

“Climate justice and social justice are inseparable,” said Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that said it would not support a bill that splits climate from the rest of the progressive agenda. “President Biden’s agenda is alive because of the activists who fought for it over the past year. These same activists are ready to pass all of Build Back Better -- not just a piece of it.”

The idea of breaking those elements off is also dividing Democrats.

“We are not interested in a slimmed down Build Back Better package,” Representative Jamaal Bowman, a New York Democrat who is a member of the House Progressive Caucus, told reporters Thursday. “We do not want to slim down Build Back Better in anyway.”

Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and author of the progressive Green New Deal, told reporters Thursday he supported using the climate measures of the bill as “the foundation for an agreement with Senator Manchin.” 

“Then build in all those other provisions that Senator Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say they can support,” Markey said. “From my perspective I’m willing to make sure we do pass something this year.”

Asked about the Biden’s remarks Thursday, Manchin, who previously said he thought agreement could be reached on the bill’s climate portion, told reporters “we just started with a clean slate, a clean sheet.” 

But separating climate from the bill’s social policies could prove “conceptually problematic,” ClearView Energy Partners said in a research note Wednesday that put the odds of passage at less than even, and noted that could diminish further if not passed by the president’s state of the union speech March 1. 

“You have a sort of ‘stronger together’ thesis in the Senate especially where you can combine interests and win support for legislation because the shared product aligns competing interests,” Kevin Book, the research firm’s managing director, said in an interview. “Once you start breaking these things apart you start to disrupt the mechanics of deal making. You undermine progressives’ hopes for a comprehensive agenda.”

But other analysts, such as Height Securities LLC, gave higher odds to passing pieces of the Build Back Better Act that likely include more than $300 billion in tax credits.

And Representative Jared Huffman, a California Democrat and progressive leader, seemed to crack the door open to the approach.

“The climate piece of Build Back Better was crafted in this iterative process that Mr. Manchin and his staff were part of all along,” Huffman said in an interview. “It’s safe to assume it’s not a show stopper. Let’s package it with as much of the rest of the bill as we can and then lets take the president up  on continuing to pursue the missing pieces in other ways.”

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By Ari Natter

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