Opinion | Republicans could win on permitting. But they want revenge on Manchin.


For months, Republican lawmakers have hollered from the rooftops about the urgent need to speed up permitting for energy production as the key to lowering fuel prices, fighting inflation and protecting national security.

Then, Sen. Joe Manchin III, the centrist Democrat from West Virginia, achieved what had seemed impossible: He secured the support of Democratic leaders, and of the majority of Democrats in Congress, for legislation streamlining permitting — even though it goes against the progressive imperative of fighting climate change.

But now, Republicans in the Senate, rather than claiming the victory they long sought, are rallying opposition to Manchin’s permit-reform bill. Worse, they will vote next week to shut down the government to prevent the bill from becoming law. Why? Because? they’re mad at Manchin for supporting separate legislation on climate.

“Revenge politics,” Manchin called it at a Capitol news conference Tuesday. “Republican leadership is upset, and they’re saying, ‘We’re not going to give a victory to Joe Manchin.’ … The bottom line is: How much suffering and how much pain do you want to inflict on the American people?”

Manchin, who stood repeatedly with Republicans over the past two years in defense of the filibuster and in limiting Democrats’ legislative ambitions, rounded on his erstwhile allies for being “willing to say we’re going to close down the government because of a personal attack on me or basically not looking at the good of the country.” Thumping the lectern with his index finger, he added, “This type of politics is something I can’t accept. This is the type of politics that makes me sick and makes the American public sick.”

Manchin wasn’t just imagining Republicans’ vindictiveness. On Monday, Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) admitted to reporters: “Generally speaking, Republicans are for permitting reform. I think given what Sen. Manchin did on the reconciliation bill has engendered a lot of bad blood.” (“Reconciliation” is legislative-speak for the separate climate bill Manchin backed — part of a deal that also secured Democrats’ support for the permitting reforms.) Cornyn said “there’s not a lot of sympathy on our side to provide Sen. Manchin a reward.”

Republicans had been clamoring all year for exactly the sort of proposals they now would defeat.

“Rarely do you have crises where the answer is staring you in the face,” Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said, for example. “We need to drill more; we need the permitting process to be relaxed.”

“We’ve got to streamline the permitting process,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said. “We’ve got to reduce the regulatory environment in this country if … we’re going to get lower inflation.”

But now the politics of pique have trumped what Republicans had claimed was a crucial national priority. It isn’t the first time; Republicans have turned against bipartisan bills on infrastructure, semiconductor chips and even, at one point, health care for veterans harmed by burn pits. Better to deny the American public a victory than to let the other party claim one.

They promise much more of this to come. Asked several months ago what Republicans would do if they take control of the House, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told a podcaster that Republicans’ job would be “standing in front” of President Biden’s agenda, “pushing so you slow it down so much. Hopefully what you do is grind it to a halt.” The goal, he explained, would be to “show the contrast” to “frame it up for 2024.”

So if next year is going to be a time for “grinding it to a halt” in Congress to “frame it up for 2024,” why don’t Republicans take the policy win now on energy permits?

There will probably never again be this much Democratic support. More than 70 House Democrats have raised objections — a third of the caucus — and a similar proportion in the Senate may oppose it (though independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is the only announced no vote), but that leaves a sizable majority of Democrats in favor despite serious environmental concerns. And Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) is honoring his promise to Manchin to attach the bill to the must-pass continuing resolution funding the government.

Still, “it doesn’t pass without the Republicans,” Manchin said Tuesday.

But Republicans, claiming they were “double-crossed” by Manchin on the climate legislation (he denies this), are instead backing a fig-leaf alternative from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.) that would strip federal environmental protections. It has no chance of becoming law.

Republicans have to choose: Take yes for an answer on permitting or give in to vindictiveness — at a time when inflation rages and war in Ukraine threatens the world’s energy security.

“If we can’t rise to that occasion,” Manchin said, “God help us all.”



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