CHARLESTON — U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito both agree President Joe Biden needs to come to the table with Republican and Democratic lawmakers as the debt ceiling deadline looms at the end of the month, but they also have competing permitting reform plans.
Manchin, D-W.Va., and Capito, R-W.Va., both held virtual briefings with West Virginia reporters Thursday afternoon to discuss their thoughts on the debt ceiling and permitting reform.
Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen informed Congress earlier this week that the country would hit the debt ceiling and be in default as soon as June 1 unless lawmakers raise the debt ceiling, though she said it was unclear when the exact date would be where the U.S. runs out of money.
The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed its version last week of a bill to raise the debt ceiling tied to cuts in government spending. The Limit, Save, Grow Act would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion while cutting subsidies and tax breaks included in last summer’s $737 billion Inflation Reduction Act, including tax breaks for renewable energy, electric vehicles, and other green subsidies. The act also includes work requirements for welfare recipients.
Biden had been calling for a clean debt ceiling bill, refusing to negotiate with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., but with the debt ceiling deadline moved up, Biden is planning a meeting next week with McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Speaking Thursday, both Manchin and Capito expressed optimism that Biden and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders can come to an agreement on a debt ceiling package before time runs out and the nation ends up in default.
“I truly believe we should be very much considerate of our amount of debt we’re going to be passing on to future generations. It’s only going to grow if we don’t do something to suppress it now,” Manchin said. “I’m hopeful that the grown-ups in the room can get together next week and come to an agreement moving forward and taking care of the debts we accumulated by raising the debt limit to pay for that and making sure we don’t continue the sins of the past.”
“I am certainly not in favor of a default, and I haven’t met anybody who is,” Capito said. “Defaulting on our obligations is absolutely something that we cannot do. We have to reach a compromise, and to reach a compromise you have to have negotiations.”
Manchin has been vocal in calling for Biden to meet with McCarthy and negotiate. While Manchin said he does not agree with everything in the House’s Limit, Save, Grow Act, it created a starting point for negotiations to begin.
It is possible that permitting reform for natural gas pipelines and other energy projects could become part of those negotiations as the starting point for a permitting reform compromise later this summer.
“There are a lot of questions as to whether permitting reform can get on the debt limit debate,” Capito said. “I think it is possible. The House has passed a bill and we’ve been working on this issue for months now. Hopefully we’ll try to iron things out. We have major differences to work out.”
Capito, Republican member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released the text of her permitting reform bill Thursday shortly before her briefing with reporters.
The Revitalizing the Economy by Simplifying Timelines and Assuring Regulatory Transparency Act would set deadlines for reviews of permitting projects, allow projects to move forward if the regulatory agency misses a deadline, sets limits and deadlines on judicial challenges and other reforms.
“We’ve been working … to get to a bipartisan regular order permitting bill,” Capito said. “We see so many projects held up, abandoned, and not able to get completed because they can’t get the permits … Whether it is a manufacturing site, whether it’s an energy site, an energy resource you’re using, it must be a fair process for everybody.”
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced a companion bill to the RESTART Act. Barrasso, the ranking Republican member of Manchin’s ENR Committee, is sponsoring the Spur Permitting of Underdeveloped Resources (SPUR) Act. The bill would encourage the development of domestic energy and rare earth mineral extraction, as well as streamline permitting and open up federal land for mineral production.
Earlier this week, Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Building American Energy Security Act of 2023. The bill language is similar to language Manchin tried to include in an amendment to last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. That amendment died in a tie vote in the U.S. Senate. The Building American Energy Security Act is also similar to Capito’s RESTART Act.
“I’m going to make sure I do everything I can to work with my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans since Republicans have a renewed interest again, to get this done,” Manchin said. “The bill I introduced last year was the only bill that got a bipartisan vote, so that’s the starting point that we have. If we can build off of that and have more Republicans with a comfort level, we can move forward. Everyone is excited. Everyone understands this has to be done.”
Manchin’s bill would set maximum timelines for permitting reviews, including a two-year limit on National Environmental Policy Act reviews for major projects and one year for lower-impact projects. It sets time limits on litigation to block permits, clarifies the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on interstate pipelines for hydrogen projects and expedites completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Capito’s EPW Committee held a hearing earlier this week on permitting reform. She said more committee hearings will be held later this spring and summer. Whether it happens as part of a debt ceiling deal or later in the year, Capito is optimistic agreement on bipartisan permitting reform can be reached.
“You can’t build a solar farm, you can’t build a wind farm, you can’t make the chips for new electric vehicles without the permits, and they’re stuck. It’s not just the pipelines for natural gas,” Capito said. “I’m less sure where it will be, but I’m more optimistic we can get to a compromise probably soon rather than later and try to work that through our committees so we’re ready to go when that vehicle comes up.”