Schumer looks for way out of the box on Manchin deal

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is looking for a way to avoid a government shutdown next week while also keeping his promise to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to pass permitting reform before October.

Most Senate Republicans say they will vote against the government funding measure if it includes Manchin’s permitting reform bill, and a group of Democrats are pressing Schumer to separate the continuing resolution and permitting reform.

That means Schumer is likely to fall short of the 60 votes he needs to overcome an expected filibuster to a short-term government funding resolution that also includes Manchin’s permitting reform legislation, which would alter the federal approval process for energy projects.

Schumer has promised Manchin that he will include permitting reform in the stopgap funding measure, which must pass by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown.

The Democratic leader appears committed — at least as of this week — to rounding up the votes.

Asked Thursday if he’s confident Manchin’s permitting reform proposal will stay in the short-term funding resolution, Schumer gave a terse reply: “yes.”

Republicans say that means Schumer and Manchin will have to make significant changes to the permitting reform bill to pick up more GOP votes.

But any concessions to Republicans will further anger environmental justice groups who are upset that Schumer promised to pass permitting reform in order to secure Manchin’s support for a sweeping climate, tax and prescription drug reform bill last month.

“The thing that always helps get legislation moving [is] if people are willing to take good, constructive suggestions. That’s what I’ve been telling those guys for a couple of weeks now,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). “We’ll see if they’re interested in making some changes. That’s always a way to get more votes.”

Some Democrats are already making the argument that if Schumer brings the continuing resolution with Manchin’s language to the floor for a vote and it fails, he will have fulfilled his promise to Manchin that won the West Virginian senator’s backing for the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Sen. Schumer promised a vote to Sen. Manchin on a must-pass bill and we’ll take that vote,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who noted that Manchin doesn’t know how many Republican votes he’ll get for his proposal.

“The commitment was to offer his bill on a must-pass plan,” he added. “The goal is to bring this matter to a vote, as Sen. Schumer promised.”

Schumer and Manchin will have to find more than 10 Republican votes because Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) have signaled they will vote against the continuing resolution if it includes Manchin’s permitting reform proposal.

Kaine delivered a fiery floor speech Thursday criticizing Manchin’s proposal for greenlighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, 100 miles of which will run through his home state.

He said Manchin’s bill would take that project out of the permitting process and away from judicial review “and have Congress put our thumb on the scale.”

Kaine said Congress could pass permitting reform without entangling it in the short-term government funding bill.

The votes of other Democrats are also in doubt, including Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), who are calling for Schumer to move the government funding bill and funding reform separately.

They released a letter to Schumer urging that permitting reform “should be examined through detailed committee consideration and a robust floor debate separate from the urgent need to see that the government stays open.”

Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Ben Cardin (D) also signed on to the letter.

These senators, however, have not gone as far as Sanders or Kaine in expressing opposition to government funding bill that includes permitting reform.

“They should be separated,” Markey reaffirmed Thursday.

But when asked if he would vote “no,” if the legislation remains paired, Markey demurred: “I haven’t seen the proposal yet. I have to wait and see the proposal.”

Manchin got a piece of good news Thursday when his home state Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) announced she would vote for his permitting reform bill. She cited the approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline as a major factor.

And at least a few other Senate Republicans could follow Capito’s lead. Those possible swing votes include Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

Most Republican senators, however, say Manchin’s permitting reform bill doesn’t go far enough and predict it won’t pick up enough GOP votes to reach the 60-vote threshold to get by a filibuster.

“I can’t see how it’s going to pass,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to the Senate GOP leadership team.

Asked if Manchin’s bill would get more than 10 Republican votes if combined with the continuing resolution, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) replied: “Nowhere close.”

Schumer on Thursday afternoon filed a cloture motion on a “shell” House bill that will serve as the legislative vehicle for moving the government funding bill next week.

That means the Senate won’t vote until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday on the motion to begin debate on the vehicle for moving the government funding bill.

The motion to proceed is expected to pass since it will allow debate to begin on a shell bill, which Schumer will then attempt to amend by adding the continuing funding resolution combined with Manchin’s permitting reform bill.

Democratic and Republican sources are predicting, however, that the combined funding and permitting reform bill will fail to get the necessary 60 votes to be added as a substitute amendment to the shell bill.

At that point, Schumer will have to decide whether to try to pick up more GOP votes by negotiating changes to Manchin’s bill or whether he will opt instead to advance a short-term funding resolution that only includes emergency funding for the war in Ukraine but not permitting reform.

The Democratic leader will find himself in a time crunch, because the Senate will be out of session on Monday in observance of Rosh Hashanah and next week’s first vote won’t take place until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

That gives Schumer only a few days to figure out a way to pass a government-funding bill, with or without Manchin’s permitting proposal, before Friday. Government funding is due to expire at 11:59 pm on Sept. 30.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) says there’s a slim chance Schumer could pick up a dozen or so Republican votes to find his way past the impasse, but it won’t be easy.

“It’s hard to say because we don’t know what else is on it,” he said of the text of the continuing resolution that has yet to be released. “They haven’t really shown their hand on that yet.

“There are lot of discussions going on around different permutations of the CR [continuing resolution], including Manchin’s permitting reform,” he added. “Our members are still trying to get more information and process it.”

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