Tensions rise amid frustration over the mysterious Manchin deal

Lawmakers are frustrated at being kept in the dark while Democratic leaders strategize how to push an energy deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) behind closed doors through Congress — while averting a government shutdown .

The Democratic leadership is aiming to use government funding legislation, which it is imperative to pass to advance an energy permit proposal from Manchin by the end of the month. But with about two weeks between Congress and the critical funding deadline, tensions are simmering over the tightly held negotiations.

“We don’t know what it is. They haven’t released the text, they’re not giving us a detailed explanation,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.) told The Hill this week. “Well, I don’t know how you could ask people to vote for something they don’t know what it is.”

“There’s a reason they’re keeping it a secret: it’s either still under discussion, or it’s so weak it doesn’t mean anything, or it’s too strong for other people,” she added.

Only a rough outline of Manchin’s plan has been released.

It includes setting maximum time limits for the environmental assessment process for energy projects, which proponents say could undermine the analysis required for a project’s approval and weaken community involvement. Other components would make it harder for states to block projects that pass through their waters and require the president to select a “balanced” list of energy projects that should be prioritized.

The sketch also states that a natural gas pipeline running through West Virginia, known as the Mountain Valley Pipeline, would be completed.

But in the absence of an official text, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle complain they don’t know what they’re debating.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who is leading the left-wing opposition to Manchin’s reforms, said he was willing to negotiate a package if it offered protections for communities facing high pollution loads.

Still, he expressed frustration that the details of Manchin’s proposal were not spelled out.

“We are negotiating in the dark and all the cards are in the Senate and we are only supposed to react,” Grijalva told The Hill.

He said he is seeking a meeting with the leadership to negotiate and also plans to reach out to Manchin.

Asked Thursday whether the text would be released before legislation for the funding bill is unveiled, Manchin told The Hill he believes it will be “released in the Czech Republic,” citing the ongoing resolution , which is expected to push the government’s funding deadline to December, when the medium-term cycle begins.

A rolling resolution is a short-term spending account that keeps spending at current levels.

When and how the financial bill will be brought up for scrutiny seems to be up in the air as leaders indicate those details are still being worked out.

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, speculated that the CR might not fall until “probably closer to the end of the month” — which he said would increase pressure on both sides to get a CR say goodbye before the grant expires.

However, he expressed doubts whether Manchin’s approval measure will make it into the larger funding package.

“Republicans and many Democrats [are] against it. So, I don’t know where it’s going yet,” he said.

He pointed to a separate permit proposal released by Capito and other Republicans last week as alternative.

It’s not entirely clear how different Capito’s and Manchin’s plans will be, although Manchin has indicated his plan will be similar to that of his fellow West Virginia senator.

“She dropped the marker on the same lines as us,” Manchin said. He also expressed hope that Republicans lining up behind her proposal, which has the backing of over 40 GOP members, will lead to support for the finance bill if it includes approving reforms. Such support could also spill over into the House of Representatives, where there is significant Democratic opposition to the plan.

“It means that Democrats and Republicans have basically the same attitude about permitting and why it’s so important, and hopefully she can bring at least 20 of them,” Manchin said.

Like the Manchin bill, the Capito legislation would limit environmental assessment deadlines, restrict state agencies from blocking projects and require the Mountain Valley Pipeline to be completed. It goes further and prevents the federal government from restricting an oil and gas extraction process known as fracking, which has been linked to water pollution. It would also allow states to take over federal government powers over power generation on public lands.

Some in the GOP see the Capito legislation as a starting point for negotiations, while others appear less ready to meet Manchin in the middle. But since Manchin’s efforts are still viewed as the best attempt at some sort of reform, they may eventually condense around his proposal.

Meanwhile, nearly 80 House Democrats are calling on the party leadership to separate Manchin’s deal from the financing bill, although some are wary of threatening to vote against the deal if it means shutting down the government.

“If it were appropriate, that would theoretically be a shutdown vote,” Grijalva told The Hill, but he doubted the chances that any Democrats opposed to the proposal would reject a stopgap bill containing the measure.

Grijalva acknowledged that not every member opposed to approving reform changes would be willing to go to a shutdown – and didn’t say if he himself would vote to shut down the government – but said his coalition is at the moment has the power.

He said that with “every close vote, and if the Republicans don’t support part of what the story was, then I think our vote becomes all the more significant.”

“But I’m not promoting it… The question now is to share it,” he added.

However, that doesn’t mean some members aren’t already doing math.

“As small as our margin is, we just need what? Three, four or five?” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), one of dozens of Democrats supporting Grijalva’s efforts, told The Hill Thursday on the matter. “Well, we’ll see if we have that.”

Alex Bolton contributed to this.

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