The Biden administration has said a vast spending bill is set to result in the â€œlargest effort to combat climate change in American historyâ€, with hundreds of billions of dollars set to be funneled into supporting clean energy, electric vehicles and new defenses against extreme weather events. But some key parts of Joe Bidenâ€™s original plan were left out.
Following negotiations with Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, two centrist Democratic senators who have opposed large portions of the original Build Back Better bill, the White House said it was confident a reduced version of the legislation will be able to pass both houses of Congress and will â€œset the United States on course to meet its climate goalsâ€.
This proposed framework includes $555bn in incentives, investments and tax credits aimed at bolstering the deployment of renewable energy such as solar and wind, as well as a tax break that will deliver up to $12,500 to people who buy an electric car.
The bill will help deploy new electric buses and trucks, build community resilience to disastrous wildfires and floods and employ 300,000 people in a new â€œcivilian climate corpsâ€.
The new framework does not include fees paid by oil and gas producers when they emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Manchin was also opposed to this fee in the original bill and rejected a proposal to include a tax or price on carbon emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency is, however, poised to regulate methane emissions through its existing powers.
These omissions mean that the legislationâ€™s framework represents a historic investment in clean energy but doesnâ€™t include any mechanisms to reduce fossil fuel usage or even cut subsidies flowing to the oil, coal and gas companies that have caused the climate crisis.
A few provisions that some Democrats were heavily advocating for were left out of Joe Bidenâ€™s framework for the $1.75tn reconciliation package.
Most notably, the proposal does not include 12 weeks of paid family leave. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the primary holdout for the provision. Manchin has indicated that he believes a reconciliation bill â€“ which would require only the support of Democrats in the Senate â€“ is â€œnot the placeâ€ for â€œa major policyâ€.
Significant expansions to healthcare were cut out of the framework, including provisions to have Medicaid cover dental and vision costs, a plan to expand Medicaid to Americans in states that have refused to expand it themselves under the Affordable Care Act, and a proposal to empower Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.
Bidenâ€™s plan for free tuition at community colleges was also left out.
The framework notably does not include the â€œbillionaire taxâ€ that was floated by some Democrats on Wednesday before it was swiftly killed by centrist holdouts.
‘We’re on a path to get this all done,’ Pelosi says as she pushes for infrastructure vote
Oil company executives testify on climate change before House oversight committee
The heads of four major companies appeared before Congress on Thursday over accusations their firms have spent years covering up the impact of burning fossil fuels on the climate crisis. To kick off the hearing, Rep Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House oversight committee, accused the companies of hiding documents.
â€œWe asked each of these companies for documents six weeks ago, but they have not come close to producing the key internal documents about climate change and the money trail we asked for. So let me be clear, we are at the beginning of this investigation,â€ she said.
The executives testifying remotely by video re Darren Woods of Exxon, David Lawler of BP America, Michael Wirth of Chevron and the president of Shell, Gretchen Watkins. The leaders of two powerful lobby groups accused of acting as front organisations for big oil, the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce, will also testify.
In her opening remarks, Maloney accused the oil companies of paying lip service to addressing the climate emergency with a public relations campaign while lobbying to oppose measure to address the crisis.
â€œTheyâ€™ve spent billions of dollars on PR firms to paint themselves as climate champions. But big oilâ€™s actions tell a different story,â€ she said. â€œToday, the committee is releasing a new staff analysis showing that over the past 10 years, these four companies have dedicated nearly only a very tiny fraction of their immense lobbying resources to enact the policies they publicly claim are key to address climate change, while spending ten of millions to protect their profits from oil and gas.â€
The highest-ranking Republican on the committee, Rep James Comer, responded by not speaking to the issue at hand, but instead by questioning the legitimacy of the investigation. He said it would be better spending its time probing Joe Bidenâ€™s handling of inflation, illegal immigration and the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Prominent Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have spoken out in favor of Joe Bidenâ€™s framework for his social and environmental spending bill framework.
â€œIn a country as large and diverse as ours, progress can often feel frustrating and slow, with small victories accompanied by frequent setbacks,â€ wrote Obama on Twitter. â€œBut once in a while, itâ€™s still possible to take a giant leap forward. Thatâ€™s what the Build Back Better framework represents.â€
In a statement, Obama pointed to investments on child care, pre-school, clean energy and healthcare as strong signs of progress.
While it â€œdoesnâ€™t contain everything that the president proposed and some had hoped, â€¦ the good news is that it represents the best chance weâ€™ve had in years to build on the progress we made during my administration and address some of the most urgent challenges of our time.â€
Meanwhile, in a short statement on Twitter, Clinton similarly praised the framework as a sign of progress.
â€œThe presidentâ€™s Build Back Better framework would be transformative for families and the middle class as a whole,â€ Clinton wrote. â€œIt includes the largest investments in children and caregiving in generations.â€
Some people are never satisfied. Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema might have been expected to dance a jig when Joe Biden announced a pared down $1.75 trillion reconciliation package with no billionaire tax, no paid family leave and no expansion of Medicare to cover dental or vision.
Instead both Manchin and Sinema offered cryptically milquetoast remarks welcoming the framework, implying that the president forged ahead without getting them to sign off on it, and raising the spectre that they could demand yet more cuts.
Manchin, senator for West Virginia, reportedly said: â€œThis is all in the hands of the House right now. Iâ€™ve worked in good faith and I look forward to continuing to work in good faith and that is all I have to say today.â€ Sinema, from Arizona, said â€œwe have made significant progressâ€ and â€œI look forward to getting this doneâ€.
For Biden todayâ€™s departure to Europe, and especially Cop26, was a natural cutoff point to draw a line in the sand with a definitive sum. He is daring conservatives such as Manchin and Sinema, and progressives such as Bernie Sanders, to accept the compromise rather than carry on fighting and potentially sink the party.
But Manchin and Sinemaâ€™s lukewarm words are likely to fuel progressive fears that, despite the White Houseâ€™s assurances, the pair are not â€œnegotiating in good faithâ€ but rather serving corporate masters. If and when they achieve their goal of passing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, the pair have given themselves enough wiggle room to say the Build Back Better plan requires further tweaks.
Judd Legum, author of the Popular Information newsletter, tweeted: â€œI think the strategy here is to pretend Sinema and Manchin have agreed to this and hope it gets enough momentum that they wonâ€™t sink it. Big gamble.â€