Democratic tensions surface in sprint to midterm elections
Simmering tensions between congressional Democrats are boiling to the surface as the party seeks to secure a few more legislative victories in the latest two-month sprint to the midterm elections.
Both chambers have busy agendas as they enter the final month of policy-making before November’s midterm elections.
The House, which meets again on Tuesday, will not sit in October so lawmakers can return home to campaign, leaving little time to legislate.
The Senate, which met last week, is expected to sit for part of next month, although it is unlikely to use the extra days in Washington.
High on the agenda is legislation to prevent the government shutdown on October 1.
Government funding itself does not divide liberal and centrist Democrats, but there will likely be divisions over how to get a bill through Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) wants to include language in a government interim funding measure to allow reform to materialize a deal he and other party leaders reached with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) to secure his support for the passage of the Cut Inflation Act last month.
But liberals in the House and Senate — including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — oppose the reforms.
“I rise this morning to voice my strong opposition to the so-called side deal the fossil fuel industry is pushing to make it easier for them to pollute the environment and destroy our planet,” Sanders told the Senate last week. .
Permit reform legislation is expected to accelerate the development of fossil fuels and other energy products by, among other things, setting maximum time limits for environmental reviews.
Schumer promised Manchin that the reform authorization would pass in exchange for his support for the multi-billion dollar climate, tax and health care bill. Manchin’s support was critical in helping Democrats win enough support in the 50-50 Senate to trigger Vice President Kamala Harris’ deciding vote.
Sanders called the permit reform legislation “a huge gift to the fossil fuel industry” and argued the measure would sabotage Biden’s goal of halving carbon emissions by 2030.
“Really, in a time when climate change threatens the very existence of our planet, why would anyone talk about dramatically increasing carbon emissions and increasing fossil fuel production in the United States?” asked the Vermont Independent.
The resistance does not stop in the Senate.
More than 70 House Democrats wrote a letter Friday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asking that reform legislation authorizing be omitted from the resolution continues – a push against the side agreement reached between Manchin and Schumer.
“Inclusion of these provisions in a continuing resolution, or other must-have legislation, would silence the voices of frontline and environmental justice communities by shielding them from scrutiny,” said lawmakers, led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva. (D-Ariz. ), wrote.
If Schumer goes through with his plan and tactics to reform the current resolution, and if that stopgap goes through the Senate, House progressives would face a tough decision: vote “no” and potentially trigger a government shutdown, or ignore doubts about legislation and vote ‘yes’.
Schumer could, however, play one more hand that would effectively compel his colleagues on the left to support the measure despite their doubts: add a bill protecting marriage equality at the federal level to the pending resolution.
But Majority Leader and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a sponsor of the marriage equality bill, both said they preferred to hold a separate vote on the legislation.
Tensions between liberals and centrists are also likely to erupt on other agenda items.
Centrist House Democrats are expected to push for a vote on police legislation that has been twice delayed due to disagreements with House Liberals.
Pelosi kicked off a vote on the public safety bills last month, writing in a letter to colleagues that “conversations continue to find consensus for a robust set of public safety measures.”
The Liberals had opposed increased police funding across the country given the outcry over police violence against minority communities.
But centrists who are in tough races against the backdrop of Republicans who decry rising crime rates want to pass legislation that would provide more money to police.
Policing legislation was due to pass in July along with a bill banning assault weapons, but Democratic leaders decided to separate the two measures to allow more time for consensus to be sought.
But it is far from certain that progress will be made.
As negotiations over police bills continue, moderates — especially Democrats facing tough re-election races in November, known as the “Frontliners” — are pushing for a vote to secure a victory they can brag about in the last few weeks of the campaign.
“President Biden said it best in his State of the Union address: the answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to defund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities,” a Frontliner told The Hill, speaking anonymously to address a sensitive topic.
“This legislation has passed all but the noisy few tests and does good for our communities to ensure safety and accountability. With our majority on the line, Democrats need to put their money where they are and pass this bill before November,” they added.