Hope is quickly deteriorating among senators involved in monthslong bipartisan discussions led by Sen. Joe Manchin III that a package on energy and climate policies will ever be achieved.
The waning optimism also applies to the centrist West Virginia Democrat, raising questions about how much longer talks will persist before lawmakers decide to throw in the towel.
“The bottom line is we got some tight windows here we have to work in. We’ve got to make some decisions here,” Mr. Manchin told reporters Wednesday evening after the bipartisan group’s fifth meeting.
Once far more rosy about the prospects of presenting a bipartisan agreement to their Capitol Hill colleagues, members appear to be spinning their wheels with talks. Lawmakers were unable to detail any policies on which they had reached a consensus on.
The lack of significant progress underscores the difficulty in crafting legislation on a hyper-partisan issue in the run-up to the midterms that could muster enough support to pass both chambers.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said that as the number of days until the midterms dwindles, so too do their chances of striking a deal.
Before the meeting, Sen. Mitt Romney told The Washington Times that “no real negotiations” had even begun, despite their prior get-togethers and discussions between staff.
The Utah Republican’s assessment was just as bleak afterward, suggesting that Democrats may need to instead pass the provisions they want along party lines later this year during the budget process known as reconciliation.
“The question is whether we will ever have a bill or whether instead there will be a move through reconciliation for those items that the Democrats agree on,” Mr. Romney said.
Lawmakers had originally hoped to make enough headway by Memorial Day to begin putting pen to paper and drafting a bill, but they will blow past the upcoming holiday.
Now, they’re considering July 4 to be an unofficial make-or-break deadline for reaching some sort of agreement.
The search for a bipartisan product began earlier this year after President Biden’s failed $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act that featured north of $500 billion to curb climate change.
Mr. Manchin suggested that although he opposed many of the sweeping social and climate spending provisions, there was still an opportunity for scaled-down legislation focusing on the environment while also addressing the lack of domestic energy.
But Democrats not involved in the ongoing talks were skeptical from the get-go about whether the man most of them blame for tanking Mr. Biden’s clean-energy agenda can bring the two parties together on such thorny issues.
“I wish [Mr. Manchin] the best,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat and member of the Senate Energy Committee that Mr. Manchin chairs, said Wednesday.
However, Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat with more moderate stances on energy and climate regulations, said he still remained “moderately optimistic.”