Simmering tensions among congressional Democrats are rising to the surface as the party looks to secure a few more legislative victories in the final two-month sprint to the midterm elections.
Both chambers have jam-packed agendas as they enter the final policy-making month before the November midterm elections.
The House, which reconvenes on Tuesday, will not be in session in October so that lawmakers can head home to campaign — leaving little time for legislating.
The Senate, which reassembled last week, is scheduled to be in session for part of next month, though it is unlikely they will use the extra days in Washington.
At the top of the agenda is legislation to prevent a government shutdown on Oct. 1.
Funding the government itself isn’t splitting liberal and centrist Democrats, but there are likely to be divisions over how to get a bill through Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to include language in a stopgap government funding measure on permitting reform to make good on a deal he and other party leaders made with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to secure his support for passage of last month’s Inflation Reduction Act.
But liberals in the House and in the Senate — including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — oppose the reforms.
“I rise this morning to express my strong opposition to the so-called side deal that the fossil fuel industry is pushing to make it easier for them to pollute the environment and destroy our planet,” Sanders said on the Senate floor last week.
The permitting reform legislation is expected to expedite the development of fossil fuel and other energy products by setting maximum timelines for environmental reviews, among other things.
Schumer promised Manchin that permitting reform would pass in exchange for his support of the multi-billion dollar climate, taxes and health care bill. Manchin’s backing was essential in helping Democrats secure enough support in the 50-50 Senate to trigger Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.
Sanders called the permitting reform legislation “a huge giveaway to the fossil fuel industry,” and argued that the measure would sabotage Biden’s goal of halving carbon emissions by the year 2030.
“Really, at a time when climate change is threatening the very existence of our planet, why would anybody be talking about substantially increasing carbon emissions and expanding fossil fuel production in the United States?” the Vermont Independent asked.
The resistance does not end in the Senate.
More than House 70 Democrats penned a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Friday asking that the permitting reform legislation be omitted from the continuing resolution — a push against the side deal struck between Manchin and Schumer.
“The inclusion of these provisions in a continuing resolution, or any other must-pass legislation, would silence the voices of frontline and environmental justice communities by insulating them from scrutiny,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), wrote.
If Schumer goes through with his plan and tacks permitting reform onto the continuing resolution, and if that stopgap passes through the Senate, progressives in the House would be faced with a tough decision: vote “no” and potentially trigger a government shutdown, or ignore misgivings about the legislation and vote “yes.”
Schumer could, however, play one more hand that would effectively force his colleagues on the left to support the measure despite their doubts: add a bill protecting marriage equality on the federal level to the continuing resolution.
But the majority leader and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a sponsor of the marriage equality bill, have both said they prefer to hold a separate vote on the legislation.
Tensions between liberals and centrists will also likely bubble up over other agenda items.
Centrist House Democrats are expected to push hard for a vote on policing legislation that has been delayed twice because of disagreements with House liberals.
Pelosi punted a vote on the public safety bills last month, writing in a letter to colleagues that “conversations continue on finding consensus for a robust public safety package.”
Liberals had opposed increases for police funding across the country given the outcry over violence by police against minority communities.
But centrists running in tough races against the backdrop of Republicans decrying rising crime rates want to pass legislation that would provide more money for police.
The policing legislation was supposed to move in July with a bill to ban assault weapons, but Democratic leaders decided to separate the two measures to leave more time for consensus building.
But it’s far from clear that progress is being made.
As the negotiations over policing bills continue, moderates — especially Democrats facing difficult reelection races in November, known as “Frontliners” — are pushing for a vote to cinch a victory they can tout during the final weeks of campaigning.
“President Biden said best in his State of the Union address: the answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities,” one Frontliner told The Hill, speaking anonymously to talk about a sensitive topic.
“This legislation has passed every test, except among the loud few, and does right by our communities to ensure safety and accountability. With our majority on the line, Democrats need to put their money where their mouths are and pass this bill before November,” they added.