WASHINGTON — West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, who has been the leading Democratic defender of a climate, energy and tax hike package that forms the backbone of his party’s agenda, said Thursday he had conceded and agreed to sign. after he decided it would help fight inflation as top Democrats struggled to rally support to get the measure through quickly.
Mr. Manchin said the surprising compromise took shape only days after he and New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer had a bitter hiatus from intense negotiations over the plan, when the West Virginian informed Mr. Schumer. that he could not support a package of new climate spending or tax proposals this summer amid skyrocketing inflation.
“You know how sometimes our tempers get a little ahead of us,” Mr Manchin, who is in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus this week, told reporters at a virtual news conference.
Mr Schumer, he said, had “let the dogs loose” two weeks ago after saying he couldn’t commit to the plan. But four days later, the two mend their split and sent their staff back to the negotiating table to find a version that both could accept.
On Wednesday they had struck a deal. The pivotal concessions that eventually won Mr. Manchin’s backing included jettisoning multibillion-dollar tax hikes he opposed and winning a commitment from President Biden and Democratic leaders to legislate to restrict the licensing process. to streamline energy infrastructure. That could pave the way for a West Virginia shale gas pipeline project that Mr. Manchin is personally interested in.
“I’m telling you directly, without allowing for reform, without the ability for America to do what it does best – produce – there is no bill,” he told Hoppy Kercheval, a radio host in West Virginia, on Thursday morning. “That is fully agreed and understood.”
In a private caucus meeting on Thursday morning, Mr. Schumer began laying the groundwork for what promises to be an arduous process to lead the compromise through the evenly divided Senate, complicated by the chamber’s secretive rules, the bare minimum majority of Democrats and a increase in the coronavirus among senators.
He advised Democratic senators that they had a chance to fulfill their time-honored ambitions to combat the threat of climate change and enable Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices for the first time, driving down costs for patients.
“It requires us to stick together and work long days and nights for the next 10 days,” Mr. Schumer told his colleagues, according to a Democrat in the room, who revealed details of the private meeting on condition of anonymity. He added: “We will have to be disciplined in our reporting and focus. It will be difficult. But I believe we can make this happen.”
The abrupt announcement of a deal held the promise of a major fortune reversal for Mr Biden and Democrats, who had resigned themselves to the demise of the climate, energy and tax package and were preparing to move forward with a bill that would fit the prescription drug pricing measure with an extension of expanded health care subsidies.
If the compromise stands and survives consideration by both the Senate and House, it would allow them to enact key legislation just weeks before the midterm congressional elections to adjust health care costs, climate change and inflation. while delivering on long-standing promises to tax the rich and reduce the deficit.
But the fate of the measure remained on shaky ground.
It was not clear whether it would get the unanimous Democrat support it needed to succeed. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat and another hold-up on her party’s domestic policy package, skipped the Democratic caucus meeting on Thursday and declined to comment on the bill or indicate whether she plans to support it.
“She is reviewing the text and will have to see what comes out of the parliamentary process,” a spokeswoman said.
Ms Sinema has opposed one element of the agreement in the past: a proposal to change preferential tax treatment for venture capitalists’ earnings.
Even if it can win passage in the Senate, the measure should also pass the House, where Democrats could only miss a few votes given the likely unanimous Republican opposition.
Democratic leaders wanted to vote on the legislation in the Senate next week, before the chamber is expected to leave for the annual August recess. But they will have to navigate the legislation through a series of parliamentary and procedural challenges, including a series of swift, politically charged amendments that Republicans can force before a final vote.
And since Republicans are expected to unanimously oppose the measure, Democrats will need all 50 senators meeting with them to attend and support the package to pass the Senate, along with Vice President Kamala Harris’ casting vote. .
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, said on Thursday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, making him the last senator to be forced into isolation this month.