Now months off-schedule for a vote on President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda—comprised of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion budget bill—Democratic leaders downplayed ongoing divisions in their caucus over climate policy.
Ideological disagreements among members have plagued Democratic efforts for months. Most notably, splits among congressional moderates and progressives rage on as both threaten to tank the other’s agenda.
Despite very little appearance of change, Democratic leaders insisted at a Wednesday press conference that the caucus stands largely united on key issues in the landmark Democratic budget.
This comes after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Tuesday that Democrats hope to have reached an agreement on the budget bill by the end of the week, kindling hopes among some senators that Democrats may be finally be moving toward an end point after months of fruitless negotiation and a plethora of missed deadlines.
Leaders Claim Unity Amid Continued Intraparty Squabbles
“Significant progress has been made [in] getting the ‘build back better’ agenda over the finish line,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said.
“Our mission is to build back better for the people,” Jeffries continued before listing a slew of policy priorities for Democrats. “We will crush the virus, we will create millions of good-paying jobs, we will fix our crumbling infrastructure, we will cut taxes for working and low-income families, we will lower costs in childcare, healthcare, and education for everyday Americans, and we will confront the climate crisis with the urgency of now, because there is no planet B.”
Jeffries said that “Every single one of those issues unites Democrats in the House, in the Senate, and of course, President Biden and Vice President Harris.”
In fact, disagreements on climate policy have been especially pronounced within the caucus over the past week.
Ultimately, the fate of the bill relies on the support of all 50 Senate Democrats, who cannot afford a single defection from their one-vote majority to pass the bill. Efforts to appease Manchin and other moderates have consumed the energies of Biden and other Democratic leaders, but continued squabbles over specifics persist.
A key goal for progressives in the Democratic caucus has been the creation of policies that will help to meet Biden’s goal of reducing U.S. emissions by 50 percent by 2030. But while this may indeed be a shared aspiration within the caucus, specifics have been divisive.
When progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who drafted the original budget framework, introduced the bill on the Senate floor, he promised an “extremely aggressive … [transformation of the U.S.] energy system away from fossil fuels.” Sanders’ budget framework allocated over $250 billion to the measure.
One proposed measure to achieve this “extremely aggressive” transformation has been a carbon tax.
But on Tuesday, moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) came out against including the measure in the final cut of the budget bill. For Democrats who have marketed the bill as a panacea to the alleged “climate crisis,” a carbon tax or other similar measures are of crucial importance.
But Manchin told reporters that in his mind, “the carbon tax is not on the board at all right now.”
Tester told reporters, “I’m not a big fan of the carbon tax. I just don’t think it works the way it was explained to me.”
Manchin, the crucial swing-voter, has been hesitant towards other climate policies for some time. Representing the coal-reliant state of West Virginia, Manchin has spoken out against providing benefits to electric companies who switch their power supply to clean energy sources.
Manchin criticized the policies during a CNN appearance in September when he told reporters that companies were already switching to clean energy on their own where possible.
“Now [Democrats are] wanting to pay companies to do what they’re already doing,” he said. “Makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do as the market transitions.”
Progressives in the party shot back, criticizing moderates for their position on what progressives consider crucial climate policy.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a proponent of the controversial Green New Deal, blasted Manchin for his opposition to the climate provisions.
On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez wrote: “We cannot advance legislation that makes the climate crisis worse … clean energy [provisions] in [the budget bill] … lets us tackle the climate crisis. We cannot afford to gut it. …
“Any negotiations on climate need to ensure that we will come out climate positive. And that emissions math cannot be informed by fossil fuel lobbyists, who don’t even count methane.”
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said that she was open to negotiations over climate provisions, but demanded that the budget “meaningfully address climate change.” On Twitter, she wrote: “I’m open to different approaches, but I cannot support a bill that won’t get us where we need to be on emissions.”
Still, Assistant Speaker of the House Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), was hopeful.
“We are excited about the momentum and the progress that we’re seeing this week,” Clark reported.
Jeffries added that leadership was not worried about the time table for getting the bill done. “We’re not on a timeline, we’re just working to arrive at the consensus that is clearly moving in an incredibly positive direction,” Jeffries said.
He emphasized again that “There is no hard timeline. We’re just working to get this done and we will.”
Jeffries said that he was unconcerned about lingering climate disputes as well. He judged: “There’s a coming together around the need to deal with the climate crisis with the fierce urgency of now. I do believe we’ll be able to come together on the issue, that was the mood of the caucus today.”