Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

Washington — The Senate’s work to pass a stopgap measure to keep federal agencies operating ahead of Friday’s deadline to avert a partial government shutdown now has an easier path, after Sen. Joe Manchin on Tuesday announced he’s agreed to drop the inclusion of a controversial proposal.  

Democratic appropriators on Monday night unveiled their 237-page bill, known as a continuing resolution, that would maintain current funding levels through Dec. 16 and included a provision to hasten federal environmental reviews of energy and natural resource projects. Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has pushed the plan and was promised a vote on the matter by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“A failed vote on something as critical as comprehensive permitting reform only serves to embolden leaders like Putin who wish to see America fail,” Manchin said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “For that reason and my firmly held belief that we should never come to the brink of a government shutdown over politics, I have asked Majority Leader Schumer to remove the permitting language from the Continuing Resolution we will vote on this evening.”

The Senate will take the first step toward passing the stopgap measure Tuesday when it votes to advance a “shell” bill that will serve as the legislative vehicle for the funding package. The bill needs support from Republicans and Democrats alike in order to clear the upper chamber.

The legislation also provides $12.3 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine as the country continues to fight back against Russia’s aggression, $1 billion to help families with heating and cooling costs amid rising consumer prices, $2.5 billion to help New Mexico recover from the largest wildfire to hit the state and $20 million in emergency funding for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements in Jackson, Mississippi.

Left out of the plan, though, is the Biden administration’s request for more money for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and monkeypox outbreak.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who leads the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the bill will keep “vital services running for the American people” through mid-December, giving lawmakers in both chambers more time to negotiate a bipartisan omnibus package of annual spending bills.

“Enacting full year appropriations bills into law must be our top priority,” Leahy said in a statement. “In a time of rising inflation, when everything costs more — energy, food, fuel, housing — we must respond accordingly.  Running on autopilot after December would be irresponsible.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut who heads the House Appropriations Committee, applauded the short-term proposal for providing communities with the funding to recover from natural disasters and assist Ukraine, but lamented that it omits money for the pandemic and monkeypox virus. 

“Despite these shortcomings, the continuing resolution still provides resources critical to our communities and national security,” she said in a statement. “And with just four days before the end of the fiscal year, it keeps the government open. I urge my colleagues in both chambers to act quickly to pass this legislation.”

While Friday’s deadline for Congress to skirt a government shutdown looms, the inclusion of Manchin’s permitting reform — the details of which he released last week — in the short-term funding plan complicated the efforts to quickly pass the stopgap bill.

The permitting proposal was the result of a deal between Manchin and Democratic leaders in exchange for his support for a climate, health care and tax package that delivered on key priorities for President Biden and passed the 50-50 Senate in August.

But Democrats and Republicans had indicated they wanted the permitting measure to be taken up separately from the short-term continuing resolution.

“I am disappointed that unrelated permitting reform was attached to this bill. This is a controversial matter that should be debated on its own merits,” Leahy said in his statement. “However, with four days left in the fiscal year, we cannot risk a government shutdown; we must work to advance this bill.”

DeLauro echoed that notion, saying she was “extremely disappointed” Manchin’s plan is not being considered on its own. While the funding package provides a “bridge” to the package of agency spending bills, “it is not perfect,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the appropriations panel, urged the Senate to pass a “clean” continuing resolution without Manchin’s proposed permitting reform.

“We have made significant progress toward a continuing resolution that is as clean as possible,” he said in a statement. “But, if the Democrats insist on including permitting reform, I will oppose it.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said he will vote “no” on the procedural vote due to a provision of the permitting reform plan that requires federal agencies to authorize the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, 100 miles of which run through Virginia.

“We should pass a continuing resolution that is free of the unprecedented and dangerous MVP deal,” Kaine said in a statement, referencing the pipeline.

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