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Manchin Eases Path for Spending Bill   09/28 06:08

   Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has abandoned, for now, his push to speed up the 
permitting process for energy projects, easing the Senate's path toward passing 
a stopgap spending bill that would keep the federal government running when the 
fiscal year ends at midnight Friday.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has abandoned, for now, his 
push to speed up the permitting process for energy projects, easing the 
Senate's path toward passing a stopgap spending bill that would keep the 
federal government running when the fiscal year ends at midnight Friday.

   A procedural vote Tuesday advancing the funding bill succeeded easily, 
72-23, after Democrats announced that the West Virginia senator's proposal 
would be stripped from the final legislation. It was clear that, with Manchin's 
plan included, Democrats were falling far short of the 60 votes needed to 
proceed, as most Republicans objected to it.

   While lawmakers are again waiting to the final moments of the fiscal year to 
pass legislation keeping the government running, they are confident they will 
do so. Neither party is interested in a shutdown heading into the critical 
midterm elections Nov. 8 that will determine which party is in charge of the 
House and Senate.

   In addition to government funding, the spending measure provides about $12.3 
billion in assistance related to Ukraine, including training, equipment, 
weapons and direct financial support for the Ukraine government. The assistance 
would be on top of some $53 billion Congress has already approved through two 
previous bills.

   The measure excludes the White House call for spending $22 billion to 
respond to COVID-19, and $3.9 billion to fight against an outbreak of the 
monkeypox virus. Republican lawmakers were overwhelmingly opposed to the health 
funding. At least 10 Republican senators would have to support the measure to 
overcome procedural hurdles and advance in that chamber.

   The most contentious piece of the legislation was Manchin's plan to 
streamline the permitting process for energy projects and make it easier for a 
pipeline project in his home state and Virginia to proceed.

   Manchin in a statement confirmed he had asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck 
Schumer to remove the permitting language and said he was holding to his belief 
that "we should never come to the brink of a government shutdown over politics."

   Manchin said he was ready to work with colleagues to move forward with 
permitting legislation at another time.

   "Senator Manchin, myself and others will continue to have conversations 
about the best way to ensure responsible permitting reform is passed before the 
end of the year," Schumer said.

   White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "We support Senator 
Manchin's decision not to press for a floor vote" and promised the 
administration "will continue to work with him to find a vehicle to bring this 
bill to the floor and get it passed and to the President's desk."

   Both chambers of Congress must approve legislation by Friday, which is the 
end of the fiscal year, to prevent a partial government shutdown. It represents 
the last bit of unfinished business for lawmakers before the midterm elections 
in November. Lawmakers from both parties are eager to wrap up and spend time on 
the campaign trail, lowering the risk of a federal stoppage.

   Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, had secured a commitment 
from President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders to have a vote on the 
permitting package in return for his support of a landmark law to curb climate 
change.

   While Republicans have voiced support for streamlining the permitting 
process for energy projects, some, including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, 
panned the effort.

   "What our Democratic colleagues have produced is a phony fig leaf that would 
actually set back the cause of real permitting reform," McConnell said on the 
Senate floor Tuesday.

   McConnell said he would vote against proceeding to the short-term spending 
bill if it included Manchin's legislation and encouraged others to vote no, 
too, a powerful signal to GOP lawmakers.

   Other Republicans made clear they agreed with McConnell's position.

   Top Democratic appropriators also said they were unhappy with the inclusion 
of Manchin's proposal, but said keeping the government running took priority.

   "I am disappointed that unrelated permitting reform was attached to this 
bill. This is a controversial matter that should be debated on its own merits," 
said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations 
Committee. "However, with four days left in the fiscal year, we cannot risk a 
government shutdown; we must work to advance this bill."

   Language in Manchin's proposal was tied to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, 
which would run through West Virginia and Virginia for more than 300 miles. The 
bill would have effectively approved the pipeline and steered legal challenges 
to a different federal court.

   Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was poised to vote against taking up the funding 
package if it included the pipeline language, another sign that lawmakers 
didn't have the 60 votes needed to proceed.

   "We should pass a continuing resolution that is free of the unprecedented 
and dangerous" pipeline deal, Kaine said.

   Environmental groups celebrated the hard-earned victory.

   "Good riddance to Manchin's dirty backroom deal and the bottom-of-the-barrel 
politics that it represented," said Jean Su, energy justice director at the 
Center for Biological Diversity.

   The funding bill also contains disaster assistance, including $2.5 billion 
to help New Mexico communities recover from the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, 
the largest wildfire in the state's history; $2 billion for a block grant 
program that aids the economic recovery of communities impacted by recent 
disasters and $20 million for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements 
previously authorized for Jackson, Mississippi.

   The bill would also provide an additional $1 billion for a program that 
helps low income households afford to heat their homes.

   There has been wide, bipartisan support for boosting support for Ukraine. 
The bill includes $4.5 billion to help Ukraine's government provide basic 
citizen services and authorizes the president to drawdown $3.7 billion worth of 
equipment from U.S. stocks to support Ukraine's armed forces. There's also 
money to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment and munitions sent to Ukraine and 
to provide Ukraine with intelligence support and training.

   The White House issued a statement in support of the stopgap spending bill 
as the voting took place, applauding the help for Ukraine.

   "The people of Ukraine have inspired the world, and the Administration 
remains committed to supporting the Ukrainian people as they continue to stand 
resolute and display extraordinary courage in the face of Russia's full-scale 
invasion," the White House said.

 
 
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