(The Center Square) – Congress faces a looming deadline this week with the government set to shut down Friday night if lawmakers cannot agree on a spending measure to keep the lights on.
The currently proposed measure keeps funding at its current level through Dec. 16, and notably the midterm elections, giving lawmakers more time and less political pressure to pass a longer funding measure.
A key sticking point in the debate has been permitting reform for energy and mineral projects. The issue has become particularly important after the record-high gas prices earlier this year and the oil market disruptions from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
U.S> Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., pitched a permitting reform measure last week to be included in the government funding measure that would speed up approval for energy projects.
“As part of the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law on August 16th, 2022, Chairman Manchin secured a commitment from Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and President Biden to pass this comprehensive permitting reform package before the end of the fiscal year on September 30th, 2022,” Manchin’s office said in a statement.
That permitting reform effort, though, has become a point of controversy with concern from a handful of liberal Democrats who say it goes too far as well as Republicans who have their own version of permitting reform and say Manchin’s reforms won’t do enough to force the Biden administration to make a substantive change.
Manchin said the current process “takes too long and drives up costs.” He argues his reforms are “extremely balanced.”
“Look what the people in America are facing right now, 200% increase in natural gas,” he said. “Increases to regular gasoline is up 67%, residential electricity is up 15%. We’ve got a good piece of legislation that is extremely balanced.”
Manchin’s measure has thrown climate activists and energy interests into the debate on the otherwise largely status quo spending measure.
Daniel Turner, executive director of the energy workers advocacy group, Power the Future, said the recent oil market disruptions are evidence of the need for energy independence so we are no longer reliant on Russia or OPEC.
“Energy independence, something we achieved just three years ago, is easily within our reach if we would stop playing these political games with our crucial energy infrastructure,” he said. “The Manchin permitting reform is a salient example of what DC has become: a petty, childish place where regular Americans bear the brunt of the games played by politicians. We’re headed into winter with critically low levels of oil and gas, and the green utopia Biden promised is nowhere near reality. How much more do American families have to suffer before our politicians start putting their needs ahead of the partisan nonsense?”
The permitting reform battle will come to a head this week and threatens to shut down the government if lawmakers cannot come to an agreement.
But critics blasted lawmakers for allowing it to get this close to a shutdown in the first place.
“It is a complete failure of leadership that we are entering the final days of the fiscal year and Congress has not even passed a budget, let alone set funding levels for the government for the next fiscal year,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “This will make it the 26th consecutive year in which Congress has not funded the government on time with all appropriations bills and the fifth year in a row in which not a single funding bill has been signed into law by the start of the fiscal year.
“This goes to show how truly broken the federal budget process is,” she added.
Other critics pointed to inflation, which has soared in the past year. Inflationary prices increases have been offset in recent weeks by a drop in gas prices, but in the last week gas prices started to climb again.
“Inflation is out of control and inflicting real pain on the American people, who are forced to prioritize their spending to afford gasoline, groceries, and necessities,” Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts said. “By contrast, Congress is out to lunch choosing to rubber stamp last year’s budget and give themselves an opportunity to write a massive omnibus spending package during the lame-duck period when they will be least accountable to voters. The Biden-Pelosi-Schumer agenda represents reckless and unnecessary spending on the Left’s priorities. This spending bill only guarantees more of the same.”
MacGuineas, who said the debt has increased by over a trillion dollars already this year, called for a reform to the budget process “that encourage real, timely budgeting instead of waiting until the last minute only to kick the can down the road once more.”