'We'll believe it when we see it pass': Skeptics are leary Schumer-Manchin deal -- here's why
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (AFP)

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While Democratic leaders on Wednesday celebrated a surprise budget reconciliation deal with Sen. Joe Manchin on new climate and tax policies, progressive campaigners had a range of responses, from cautious optimism, to skepticism, to outright concern.

"Until Sens. Manchin and Sinema give us proof that their tag-team two-face act is over, we're not going to get our hopes up."

Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) unveiled what Politico called "Washington's best-kept secret" less than two weeks before the August recess and less than two weeks after Manchin signaled he wasn't open to climate and tax reforms right now.

The new agreement—the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022—follows months of tense negotiations after Manchin last year killed the House-approved Build Back Better Act, which was backed by most of his Democratic colleagues, President Joe Biden, American voters, and progressive advocates.

"With more than 85 million Americans currently under a heat advisory, we are facing a climate emergency, and we must address it in ways that advance justice and create jobs. I commend Sen. Schumer, President Biden, and the entire Senate Democratic Caucus for reaching a deal on legislation that invests in climate and aims to help lower energy costs for Americans," said Margie Alt, director of the Climate Action Campaign, in a statement.

"While I look forward to studying the details closely, this is welcome news that the Senate appears to be moving forward on these investments," Alt added. "We need both Congress to pass meaningful investments in climate, justice, clean energy, and jobs AND President Biden to use every tool in his toolbox to implement strong solutions for pollution. There is no time to waste."

While echoing the message that American policymakers must immediately and ambitiously take on the climate emergency, Food & Water Action Executive director Wenonah Hauter expressed concern that, as Manchin highlighted, "it is truly all of the above, which means this bill does not arbitrarily shut off our abundant fossil fuels."

Hauter said that "after dragging his feet for more than a year, Sen. Manchin announced an agreement that won't solve the crisis, and may make it worse. The few details released this evening suggest this deal will prop up fossil fuels and promote the various false climate solutions beloved by industry."

Noting that as part of the deal, Biden, Schumer, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have also agreed to reform the permit process for energy infrastructure before the end of the fiscal year, Hauter warned that "streamlining permitting for natural gas pipelines and exports is not climate action, it is the opposite. More subsidies for dirty hydrogen, carbon capture, and nuclear energy are not climate action, they are the opposite."

Using the budget reconciliation process allows Senate Democrats to bypass a GOP filibuster, but due to the Democratic Party's narrow control of the upper chamber, the bill must be supported by the full caucus, including Manchin and fellow obstructionist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), to pass.

"This so-called deal forced by Sen. Manchin is what we would expect when Congress is so closely divided and friends and beneficiaries of the fossil fuel industry have effective control over 'climate' policy," said Hauter. "It proves we need to elect more climate champions so that we can pass the policies actually needed to confront the crisis we all face. Until then, we should not accept deals that strengthen the oil and gas industry to the detriment of us all."

Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, wondered on Wednesday whether the bill will even make it to Biden's desk, given the right-wing Senate Democrats' track record.

"We'll believe it when we see it pass on the floor of the Senate," Pearl said. "We've been down this road before—until Sens. Manchin and Sinema give us proof that their tag-team two-face act is over, we're not going to get our hopes up."

"Manchin and Sinema have spent the last year leading Democrats on a wild goose chase in search of the perfect bill that would get both of their support," he noted. "Manchin's decision to come back to the bargaining table solves one half of that puzzle, but it does nothing to ensure that Sinema will cooperate. In fact, some of the tax changes that he's included in his bill, like fixing the carried interest loophole, are ones that Sinema has previously said she will not support."

Pearl stressed that "I hope the Inflation Reduction Act becomes law. Multinational corporations, fund managers, and criminal tax evaders should all be paying more. But it hasn't passed yet, and without more pressure on both Manchin and Sinema, it might never."

According to Politico, "Sinema learned of the deal on Wednesday afternoon and had no immediate comment."

HuffPost pointed out that the proposal could also run into trouble in the closely divided lower chamber:

House Democrats from New York and New Jersey have said they'll refuse to support any deal that doesn't restore the federal tax deduction for paying state and local income taxes.
Manchin explicitly rules out restoring the deduction in his statement: "Our tax code should not favor red state or blue state elites with loopholes like SALT," he said, referring to it by the acronym for "state and local tax."
Business-friendly Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who is leading the group demanding the restoration of SALT, was noncommittal Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) was among those celebrating the deal.

"If it's all true... it's a huge victory for the American people," she told NBC News' Kyle Stewart. "It's a really important set of investments in people's healthcare, keeping costs down, extending the subsidies, and climate change."

"Today, I'm allowing myself to feel a little bit of hope," Jayapal added. "And let's see if we can get this done because it would be life-changing for so many people across our country and across the world."

Pelosi struck a similar tone, saying that "it is welcome news for House Democrats, who have fought relentlessly to lower the cost of healthcare, combat the climate crisis, and ensure that the biggest corporations and the wealthiest few pay their fair share."

While vowing to "continue to fight for priorities not contained in this legislation," Pelosi said that the deal "is a victory for America's families and for protecting our planet," and "in light of the discussions of the past year, this agreement is a remarkable achievement."

In addition to a joint statement with Manchin announcing the broad strokes of the deal, Schumer separately said that "I expect that the remaining work with the parliamentarian will be completed in the coming days and the Senate will vote on this transformative legislation next week."

Along with the full legislative text and a one-pager on the deal, Schumer released summaries of the tax, prescription drug, and climate provisions.

The senators expect the proposal to raise $739 billion in revenue: $313 billion from a 15% minimum corporate tax rate, $288 billion from prescription drug pricing reform, $123 billion from enhanced enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service, and $14 billion by closing the carried interest loophole.

The deal would invest $369 billion in energy security and climate change, $64 billion in extending Affordable Care Act subsidies, and approximately $300 billion in deficit reduction, a key priority for Manchin. It would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and cap out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 as well as cut planet-heating emissions roughly 40% by 2030.

Schumer—who was confronted in his Capitol Hill office earlier this week by congressional staffers who staged a sit-in for climate action—thanked Manchin "for his willingness to engage and his commitment to reaching an agreement that can earn the support of all 50 Senate Democrats."

Manchin, in his own lengthy statement, hailed the Inflation Reduction Act for providing "a responsible path forward that is laser-focused on solving our nation's major economic, energy and climate problems," while reiterating his opposition to the much broader package he blocked.

"For too long, the reconciliation debate in Washington has been defined by how it can help advance Democrats' political agenda called Build Back Better," he said. "Build Back Better is dead, and instead we have the opportunity to make our country stronger by bringing Americans together."

Data for Progress polling conducted in late December—just after Manchin publicly made clear that he would thwart passage of the Build Back Better Act—showed that 61% of voters across party lines somewhat or strongly supported the plan to invest $1.75 trillion over the next 10 years in various social programs. Support for the package rose to 63% after they were told it would be paid for with new tax policies.

Though much smaller than the Build Back Better package, Biden on Wednesday expressed his support for the Inflation Reduction Act, declaring that "this is the action the American people have been waiting for."

The president, who's faced mounting pressure to push harder for a legislative win, thanked Schumer and Manchin "for the extraordinary effort that it took to reach this result," and urged Congress to "move on this bill as soon as possible."