Climate advocates argue against breaking up BBB, call it a ‘mistake’ for Democrats and the planet

Source: By Maxine Joselow, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The U.S. Capitol dome during a snowstorm on Jan. 16. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

House Democrats facing tough reelection fights are urging party leaders to break up President Biden‘s sprawling Build Back Better bill into a series of narrow measures and pass them individually, The Washington Post’s Marianna Sotomayor reported yesterday.

These swing-district members have argued to House leaders in recent days that holding votes on politically popular provisions in the bill, such as curbing prescription drug costs and extending the child tax credit, would help Democrats survive a potential Republican wave in the midterm elections.

But the potential strategy has prompted concern from some Democrats and climate advocates, who say the party should keep fighting for the entire roughly $2 trillion package, including its $555 billion in climate spending, rather than splintering the bill simply because of the looming midterms.

“Everything in Build Back Better should be done. Frankly, I’m an advocate for the original $3.5 trillion Build Back Better, which, by the way, is spending $350 billion a year. I mean, heck, that’s half of what we spend every year subsidizing the fossil fuel industry,” Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), who will face off in a primaryagainst Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) following congressional redistricting, said in a phone interview with The Climate 202 yesterday evening.

“We’re sitting here right now having a conversation about inside-the-Beltway politics while the world is on fire,” Casten added. “Shame on us. Forget about voters in the midterms — who gives a crap? How do we look our kids in the eye?”

Faiz Shakir, an adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who managed the senator’s 2020 presidential campaign, said he thinks breaking up BBB would be a “mistake” both for Democrats politically and for the planet.

“If you’ve moved in a direction of cutting this up where you left climate out, you have failed by definition,” Shakir said in a phone interview yesterday. “You’ve just failed because climate is an urgent threat to our well-being and our children, and we have this great opportunity in front of us to do something about it.”

Shakir added that Democrats should not break up BBB without bringing the full package to a vote in the Senate, putting moderate Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on record as supporting or opposing the legislation.

“Moving to this piecemeal strategy … would be letting Joe Manchin off the hook,” he said. “If Manchin wants to fight it, let him fight it and let him be on the record. Let him explain to everyone why he has no interest in moving us to a clean-energy future.”

Ellen Sciales, a spokeswoman for the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group, also stressed that Democrats should not give up on getting Manchin and Sinema’s votes.

“The idea of breaking up BBB into smaller bills is a false choice for Democrats,” Sciales said in an email. “Everything in the Build Back Better Act is urgently needed. Democrats have a trifecta right now, and instead of pitting programs and communities against each other, the White House and Senate leaders should figure out a way to bring the last two Senators on board. It’s clear the tactic of negotiating in private is failing, and we’re quickly losing our window of opportunity to act.”

However, at least one senator suggested breaking out the climate provisions mere hours after Manchin announced his opposition to the full package.

“Major climate and clean energy provisions of the Build Back Better Act have largely been negotiated, scored for ten years and financed,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a Dec. 19 statement. “Let’s pass these provisions now. We cannot let this moment pass.”

A spokeswoman for Manchin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Of course, these discussions are purely hypothetical since the piecemeal strategy has not gained buy-in from House or Senate leadership.

In a meeting earlier this month, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) pushed back on the idea of breaking up BBB, which he said still has a chance of passage, “reflecting the continued view of House leadership,” our colleague Marianna writes.

Still, the discussions reflect the reality that Democrats must make difficult choices as they race to pass BBB before the midterms in November — and before Biden’s State of the Union address on March 1.

“Climate change is an existential threat and a problem that we’ve delayed on for decades. Failure is not an option,” Leah Stokes, a professor of environmental policy at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told The Climate 202.

“So I think leadership needs to make tough choices on the social policy parts of the package and figure out what can be passed and pass it as soon as possible, because delay is detrimental to the likelihood that we’ll pass this law,” Stokes said. “Delay is poison.”