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Today, Congressional Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives blocked passage of the Energy and Water spending bill due to the inclusion of an amendment from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney on LGBT protections.
The base legislation would have slashed energy funding and was weighed down with provisions that undermine drinking water by blocking the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Rule and freezing rules that encourage mountaintop removal coal mining by permitting companies to bury streams under mining waste.
In response, Sierra Club's Legislative Director Melinda Pierce released the following statement:
"It's almost shocking that Congress has found a way to hit a new low. Congressional Republicans have now scuttled must-pass legislation to fund vital energy and water programs because they object to fundamental protections for the LGBT community. Shameful."
The Sierra Club is the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. We amplify the power of our 3.8 million members and supporters to defend everyone's right to a healthy world.(415) 977-5500
"This agreement is far from a compromise," said one campaigner. "It's a surrender to Big Oil and Republican hostage-takers in Congress."
Environmental protection groups warned that the text of the so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023—which, if approved by Congress in the coming days would hold federal nonmilitary spending at its current level in the coming year and increase it by 1% in 2025—includes a " colossal error" by the Biden administration.
"Singling out the Mountain Valley Pipeline for approval in a vote about our nation's credit limit is an egregious act," said Peter Anderson, Virginia policy director with Appalachian Voices. "By attempting to suspend the rules for a pipeline company that has repeatedly polluted communities' water and flouted the conditions in its permits, the president and Congress would deny basic legal protections, procedural fairness, and environmental justice to communities along the pipeline's path."
The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) has previously been denied multiple permits by courts due to concerns about its effects on water quality and environmental justice for the communities it would run through from West Virginia to southern Virginia, but under the bill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be required to issue all remaining permits within 21 days. The bill also attempts to prohibit judicial review of the permits by any government agency.
According to one analysis by Oil Change International, the MVP—a pet project of right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—would emit the equivalent of more than 89 million metric tons of carbon, equal to the emissions of 26 coal plants.
"Changes to environmental laws and favors to fossil fuel companies have no place in a bill to raise the debt ceiling."
Although President Joe Biden previously said he would not negotiate with Republicans about raising the debt ceiling—which Congress has
voted to do 78 times since 1960, mostly under Republican presidents—he is now supporting a deal which includes a dramatic rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in addition to the MVP approval.
Ariel Moger, government and political affairs director at Friends of the Earth,
noted that Manchin "has done as much as Republicans to sabotage the Democratic agenda" by refusing to back Biden's signature domestic agenda, the Build Back Better Act, in 2021.
Despite this, Moger said, Manchin has "been rewarded" while "MAGA extremists" have been given legislation "filled with polluter giveaways and devastating spending limitations."
Biden and Manchin have claimed the MVP is essential for energy security, and the bill text includes claims that the project "will reduce carbon emissions and facilitate the energy transition," despite Oil Change International's finding that methane gas leakage, pipeline operations, and the burning of the gas delivered by the pipeline would add "tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution to the atmosphere every year for decades to come."
The legislation includes "too many lies to even begin correcting" about the pipeline, said Grace Tuttle, advocacy director for the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) Coalition.
\u201cThere's too many lies to even begin correcting in this bill text. Congratulations to Republicans AND Democrats for continuing Appalachia's role as a sacrifice zone. Shame on @POTUS. Cruelty is the point, and this nation is the cruelest of them all. #StopMVP\u201d— Grace Tuttle (@Grace Tuttle) 1685320485
"The debt deal insists that building Manchin's pet MVP pipeline is 'in the national interest' and will cut global warming emissions," said350.org co-founder and author Bill McKibben. "These things simply aren't true."
Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org and director of Fossil Free Media, noted that Biden's approval of the MVP comes months after his administration allowed the construction of the massive Willow project, a ConocoPhillips oil drilling operation in Alaska which could send roughly 280 million metric tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere by 2050—even as scientists and energy experts warn that keeping planetary heating below 2°C by then will be impossible if fossil fuel projects continue.
"Support for Biden's climate record plummeted among young people after his approval of the Willow project," said Henn. "Greenlighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline will drive it down even further."
\u201cSupport for Biden\u2019s climate record plummeted among young people after his approval of the Willow Project. \n\nGreen lighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline will drive it down even further. \n\nHe needs youth turnout in 2024. This ain\u2019t the way to get it. https://t.co/Za9wIDZZME\u201d— Jamie Henn (@Jamie Henn) 1685323662
With the Fiscal Responsibility Act, said Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, "Biden has allowed Sen. Manchin and Republicans to hold the government hostage to ram through the climate-killing Mountain Valley Pipeline, dramatically roll back bedrock environmental laws that give voice to frontline communities, and sabotage agencies whose job is to protect the environment and working families."
"Congress should reject these poison pills," she said, "and pass a clean debt ceiling bill."
"I'm not happy with some of the things I'm hearing about," the Washington Democrat said, stressing that still needs to see legislative text.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal said Sunday that the Biden White House should be concerned about securing the Congressional Progressive Caucus' support for the newly announced debt ceiling agreement, given that the deal includes work requirements for aid programs and other provisions sure to infuriate the Democratic Party's left flank.
Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), toldCNN she is "not happy with some of the things" she's hearing about the tentative agreement but emphasized that she still needs to see legislative text, which is expected to be released Sunday afternoon.
Asked whether the White House and Democratic leaders still have to worry about whether the CPC—which has 101 members in the House—will support the final agreement, Jayapal responded, "Yes, they have to worry."
While noting that the spending cuts in the deal aren't nearly as large as the House GOP wanted, Jayapal raised concerns about the new work requirements for some recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The White House-GOP agreement would reportedly impose work requirements on adult SNAP recipients who are up to 54 years old and have no children—up from the current age ceiling of 49. Under current law, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, "non-elderly adults without children in their homes can receive benefits for only three months every three years, unless they are working at least 20 hours a week or can document they are unable to work."
The broadening of work requirements would sunset in 2030, according to the White House, and SNAP eligibility would be expanded for veterans and people who are homeless.
Jayapal said Sunday that SNAP work requirements are "absolutely terrible policy," adding that "we have seen reams of data that show that, when you put these work requirements in, they're really just administrative red tape that prevent the people who need help from getting help."
"I told the president that directly when he called me last week on Wednesday that this is saying to poor people and people who are in need that we don't trust them," Jayapal said, noting that people on SNAP receive an average of $6 per day in benefits. "I think it is really unfortunate that the president opened the door to this."
\u201cWork requirements are bad policy. They don\u2019t reduce spending, they create administrative burdens, and they simply don\u2019t work.\n\nThe fact that this is a GOP priority is cruel, and every American should know what they\u2019re trying to do to poor and working families.\u201d— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@Rep. Pramila Jayapal) 1685284434
Outside advocates and economists have vocally condemned the debt ceiling agreement's real-term spending cuts, attacks on aid programs such as SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and cuts to IRS funding, but progressive lawmakers have been largely quiet since details of the tentative deal began emerging Saturday night.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) wrote in a "Dear Colleague" letter on Sunday that Republicans will release legislative text at some point in the afternoon and top Biden administration officials will brief the Democratic caucus on the deal at 5:00 pm ET.
Politicoreported Sunday that "Democrats are pissed that Republicans got a briefing on the deal last night—and that they won't get the same until 5:00 pm tonight."
One unnamed senior Democrat told Politico that rank-and-file lawmakers are "furious that they will learn about [the details of the deal] from Republicans and Sunday talk shows."
Some members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, meanwhile, have responded angrily to the tentative agreement, which would lift the debt ceiling until January 1, 2025 and put spending caps in place for 2024 and 2025.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) called the deal "insanity," complaining that it wouldn't cut spending aggressively enough.
During a press briefing Sunday morning, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) downplayed the Freedom Caucus outrage, saying he's confident that a majority of House Republicans will vote for the agreement.
The Treasury Department warned Friday that the U.S. government will run out of money to pay its obligations on June 5 unless Congress lifts the debt ceiling.
"For no real reason at all, hungry people are set to lose food while tax cheats get a free pass."
The text of the legislation, titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, is now available here.
Progressive economists and advocates warned that the tentative debt ceiling agreement reached Saturday by the White House and Republican leaders would needlessly gash nutrition aid, rental assistance, education programs, and more—all while making it easier for the wealthy to avoid taxes.
The deal, which now must win the support of both chambers of Congress, reportedly includes two years of caps on non-military federal spending, sparing a Pentagon budget replete with staggering waste and abuse.
The Associated Pressreported that the deal "would hold spending flat for 2024 and increase it by 1% for 2025," not keeping pace with inflation.
The agreement would also impose new work requirements on some recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) while scaling back recently approved IRS funding, a gift to rich tax cheats.
In exchange for the spending cuts and work requirements, Republican leaders have agreed to lift the debt ceiling until January 1, 2025—a tradeoff that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is pitching as a victory to his caucus, which includes far-right members who have demanded more aggressive austerity.
President Joe Biden, for his part, called the deal "a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want."
"After inflation eats its share, flat funding will result in fewer households accessing rental assistance, fewer kids in Head Start, and fewer services for seniors."
Lindsay Owens, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, said in a statement Saturday night that "this is a punishing deal made worse only by the fact that there was no reason for President Biden to negotiate with Speaker McCarthy over whether or not the United States government should pay its bills," alluding to the president's executive authority.
"After inflation eats its share, flat funding will result in fewer households accessing rental assistance, fewer kids in Head Start, and fewer services for seniors," said Owens. "The deal represents the worst of conservative budget ideology; it cuts investments in workers and families, adds onerous and wasteful new hurdles for families in need of support, and protects the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations from paying their fair share in taxes."
The agreement comes days before the U.S. is, according to the Treasury Department, set to run out of money to pay its obligations, imperiling Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments and potentially hurling the entire global economy into chaos.
House Republicans have leveraged those alarming possibilities to secure painful federal spending cuts and aid program changes that could leave more people hungry, sick, and unable to afford housing, critics said.
"For no real reason at all, hungry people are set to lose food while tax cheats get a free pass," wrote Angela Hanks, chief of programs at Demos.
While legislative text has not yet been released, the deal would reportedly impose work requirements on adult SNAP recipients without dependents up to the age of 54, increasing the current age limit of 49. Policy analysts and anti-hunger activists have long decried SNAP time limits and work requirements as immoral and ineffective at boosting employment. (Most adult SNAP recipients already work.)
"The SNAP changes are nominally extending work requirements to ages 50 to 54. In reality, especially as the new rule is implemented, this is just an indiscriminate cull of a bunch of 50- to 54-year-olds from SNAP who won't realize there are new forms they need to fill out," said Matt Bruenig, founder of the People's Policy Project.
Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, wrote on Twitter that the agreement is "cruel and shortsighted," pointing to the work requirements and real-term cuts to rental assistance "during an already worsening homelessness crisis."
"House Rs held our nation's lowest-income people hostage in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling," Yentel continued. "The debt ceiling 'deal' could lead to tens of thousands of families losing rental assistance... Expanding ineffective work requirements and putting time limits on food assistance adds salt to the wound, further harming some of the lowest-income and most marginalized people in our country."
The White House and Republican leaders also reportedly agreed to some permitting reforms that climate groups have slammed as a boon for the fossil fuel industry. According toThe New York Times, the agreement "includes measures meant to speed environmental reviews of certain energy projects," though the scope of the changes is not yet clear.
And while the deal doesn't appear to include a repeal of Biden's student debt cancellation plan—which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court—it does reportedly contain a provision that would cement the end of the student loan repayment pause, drawing fury from debt relief campaigners.
\u201cResuming student debt payments will crush working families and is simply bad policy\u2014but agreeing to codify the pause\u2019s end into law before the Supreme Court decides on broad-scale relief is criminal.\u201d— The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5 (@The Debt Collective \ud83d\udfe5) 1685241461
The deal must now get through Congress, a difficult task given potentially significant opposition from progressive lawmakers who are against attacks on aid programs and Republicans who want steeper cuts.
As the Times reported, "Lawmakers in the House Freedom Caucus were privately pillorying the deal on Saturday night, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus had already begun to fume about it even before negotiators finalized the agreement."
Amy Hanauer, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, said Sunday that "it's a relief to see that congressional leaders and the president have come to an agreement to raise the debt limit and avert an economic disaster."
"But by instituting work requirements for critical assistance programs and rescinding important funding to crack down on wealthy tax cheats, this deal will rig the economy even more in favor of the most well-off Americans while failing to fix the real structural problems that led to the current debt crisis in the first place," said Hanauer. "The deal avoids the elephant in the room: it includes no new revenues even though tax cuts of the past few decades were a primary driver of deficit growth."
"And next up, many Republican lawmakers want to double down on tax cuts by pushing through many more tax cuts that would most help wealthy families and corporations," Hanauer added. "They should do the opposite."