The White House demanded on Wednesday that Democrats include a dictate that all U.S. electricity be carbon-free after 2035 in the big-spending social welfare package that is being linked to bipartisan infrastructure.
Gina McCarthy, who serves as President Biden’s national climate adviser, issued the demand during a conversation about climate change and infrastructure with Punch Bowl News. Mrs. McCarthy, in particular, argued it was vital for Democrats to address both traditional and “human infrastructure” needs in the coming weeks.
“We have to be bold. If we take a narrow view of this, then we will not be able to look our grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did everything we could to keep America strong,” she said. “We need that second package. We need tax credits, we need a clean energy standard, I’d love to see a civilian climate corps.”
Last week, President Biden and a group of 11 bipartisan lawmakers announced a deal on the nation’s largest infrastructure package. The compromise, which took months to fashion, would spend upwards of $1.2 trillion on upgrading transportation systems.
The deal, however, is by no means final. Progressive Democrats are threatening to withhold support because they feel it does not go far enough to address climate change and economic inequality.
Instead, many on the left have sought to link the bipartisan infrastructure package to a big-spending social welfare and climate change proposal. Since the latter can not garner the 60 votes needed to defeat a GOP filibuster, progressives are demanding it move along party lines via budget reconciliation. The process allows spending bills to pass the evenly split Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.
The reconciliation bill and the infrastructure bill officially became linked last week when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed not to pass one without the other.
“We’re not bringing it to the floor unless both bills pass in the Senate,” the California Democrat said.
Mr. Biden initially backed up the commitment, going as far as to say he would issue a veto if the two did not arrive on his desk in “tandem.” The White House was forced to backpedal after several Republicans said it amounted to a “double-cross” and threatened to abandon the bipartisan deal altogether.
“That statement understandably upset some Republicans, who do not see the two plans as linked,” said Mr. Biden. “We will let the American people — and the Congress — decide.”
Mrs. McCarthy, who some have dubbed the administration’s domestic climate czar, made it clear on Wednesday that the White House would use the reconciliation standoff to its benefit.
“President Biden has been very clear that he’s going to both move forward this bipartisan bill, and he’s also going to move forward through budgetary efforts to make sure that we’re not just building the infrastructure, but it’s going to be filled with renewable energy,” she said.
Despite the White House labeling a 100% clean electricity standard a non-negotiable for reconciliation, it is unclear if the proposal can muster the support of all 50 Democrats within the Senate.
The path for reconciliation runs through Sen. Joe Manchin III, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia. Mr. Manchin, who serves as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has already signaled he will back a scaled-down reconciliation bill if it is paid for by repealing the Trump-era tax cuts.
He is unlikely to back a clean electricity standard because of the impact it would have on his constituents and state. West Virginia has an abundance of both coal and natural gas, two sources that produce nearly two-thirds of all electricity consumed across the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration.
Mr. Manchin’s office did not return requests for comment on this story.
Rep. David McKinley, a West Virginia Republican who has worked across partisan lines to devise solutions to climate change, told The Washington Times that a clean electricity standard would devastate jobs in his state.
“Our energy and environmental policy should be driven by science and technology, not an arbitrary deadline based on ideology. Instead of policies that will destroy jobs and increase electric costs,” said Mr. McKinley. “To meet our energy needs, we should be realistic that any transition to clean electricity needs to include fossil fuels with carbon capture.”