GLASGOW, Scotland — In a visit to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 20 other congressional Democrats touted the climate change provisions of the Build Back Better bill that passed their chamber but remains stuck in the Senate.
“We come here equipped, ready, to take on the challenge, to meet the moment,” Pelosi said.
“[The] congressional delegation comes here fresh from advancing legislation to Build Back Better, which represents the most ambitious and consequential climate and clean energy legislation of all time,” she boasted. “Our legislation is far-reaching, ensuring that [the] future economy is greener and cleaner.”
She then summarized the bill’s measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and to adapt to the impacts of climate change, which include hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of tax credits for renewable energy, investments in electric vehicle deployment, manufacturing clean energy infrastructure and modernizing the electricity grid.
“That is our plan, to pass the bill the week of Nov. 15,” Pelosi said in response to a question about whether Congress will ever have the votes to pass strong action to combat climate change.
Previously, the plan was to pass it before the end of October, in time to bolster U.S. leadership at the climate change conference, also known as COP26.
Whether it will meet the new deadline remains unknown. Nevertheless, Biden administration officials and congressional Democrats have made it the centerpiece of their events in Glasgow.
From these comments, one might think the bill’s ultimate enactment is a mere formality. But according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the fate of Build Back Better in his chamber of Congress remains in doubt.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, told Yahoo News on Saturday when asked if the Senate would pass the legislation. “First, we have to get it through the parliamentarian’s office and through 50 Democratic senators.”
Other House members present were only slightly more circumspect than Pelosi.
“America is back, and we are ready to lead on solving the climate crisis,” said Kathy Castor of Florida, chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. “And thanks to Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats, the United States Congress is poised to pass the largest investment in clean energy and climate solutions in the history of America.”
“You may have been following a little bit of the drama in Washington, D.C.” she conceded, ruefully, to the assembled reporters. “But it was just a few days ago that the House passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and took the first step towards passage of the Build Back Better Act.”
The infrastructure bill, which had already been passed in the Senate, will invest in reducing emissions through building mass transit, intercity rail and electric vehicle infrastructure and grid upgrades. But it also contains fossil-fuel-friendly provisions that some progressives and environmental activists found objectionable.
“This is historic,” Castor said. “We’re now on the pathway to meeting the scientific imperative and the goal President Biden set out that we need to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution by 50-52 percent by 2030.”
It’s unclear if that goal can be met if Build Back Better doesn’t pass.
“Once we pass this historic package, it will help keep 1.5 alive,” Castor said, referring to the hope — articulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement, to which the outcome in Glasgow will be the successor — of holding global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“The leadership of Speaker [Pelosi] took a huge step of breaking that cycle and inaction that unfortunately for the last four years has been the hallmark of United States Congress,” Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said, presumably referring to the just-passed infrastructure bill.
“Now we have another huge opportunity to make a huge down payment, with the Build Back Better agenda, for the future: a commitment to fighting climate change in an inclusive, equal and fair manner,” he continued.
Two Senate Democrats in particular, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have refused to state publicly that they will vote for any version of Build Back Better, which has already been pared down significantly to meet their demands.
In Glasgow, their Democratic congressional colleagues seem to be conflating their hopes with actual certainty that the two senators will eventually back Biden’s agenda.