Apr 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan Senate group discusses climate and energy

Sen. Joe Manchin is seen walking up the Senate steps at the Capitol on Monday.

Sen. Joe Manchin arrives at the Capitol on Monday after a two-week congressional recess. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of senators met Monday evening to discuss a potential climate and energy bill that can garner 60 votes in the Senate and revive the barest elements of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda, senators and aides told Axios.

Why it matters: By aiming for 60 votes in a 50-50 Senate, some members of the group are trying to recreate the dynamic that led last year to the passage of $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

  • The group’s Democrats are hopeful they can rescue a portion of the $550 billion in climate spending included in the president’s BBB proposal.
  • Its Republicans are open to exploring ways to open up more federal land to drill for natural gas drilling, reform the permitting process and invest in nuclear energy.

Driving the news: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are spearheading the effort.

Some 16 senators — eight from each party — were invited to attend the meeting Monday evening, Axios learned.

  • “Joe [Manchin], not surprisingly, likes to be proactive and he wants to see what's possible,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told Axios.
  • “What's acceptable to them has got to be something that can get 10 of us,” said Cramer. “And that's going to be pretty tough.”
  • “It’s an opportunity to talk about a path forward,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
  • “I just think [President] Kennedy used to say, 'Never negotiate out of fear but never be afraid to negotiate,'” he said. “We are going to have a good conversation and we'll see where it goes."

Between the lines: Manchin, who killed Biden’s more ambitious, $1.75 trillion bill last December, has been privately hinting he prefers to pass any legislation outside of the partisan budget reconciliation process.

That means it had to clear a higher bar: 60 votes — with at least 10 coming from the Republicans.

  • Some of his preferred policy prescriptions for energy independence, like approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, were always in danger of being washed out of a reconciliation bill by a so-called Byrd Bath.
  • It allows the Senate parliamentarian to rule if a specific piece of legislation can be considered via the process reserved for budget reconciliation.
  • “[Monday's] meeting was an effort to gauge bipartisan interest in a path forward that addresses our nation’s climate and energy security needs head on," said Manchin spokesperson Sam Runyon.

The big picture: The White House remains open to some sort of reconciliation package but has been careful not to publicly raise expectations.

  • White House officials briefed House chiefs of staff on Monday about their priorities for the next 100 days.
  • While Louisa Terrell, the director for legislative affairs, and Shuwanza Goff, the top House liaison, mentioned Build Back Better, administration officials were more focused on addressing toxic exposure for veterans, a China bill, additional funding for COVID-19 and Ukraine, people familiar with the matter told Axios.
  • The officials said the goal is to hit “singles, doubles and triples,” Punchbowl News reported.

Go deeper: Getting a reconciliation bill through an evenly divided Senate was always going to be a challenge for the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

  • Any final spending equation that narrowly solved for Manchin’s concerns might run afoul of top-line revenue numbers used by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
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