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PA Dems Pan Manchin’s Nix of Biden’s Build Back Better Plan

Pennsylvania Democrats reacted swiftly Sunday to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s announcement he won’t be supporting President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, the approximately $2 trillion social spending bill, effectively killing the legislation for now.

As Politico’s Jonathan Lemire reported the news, “The stunning decision by Sen. Joe Manchin on Sunday to announce his opposition to Biden’s Build Back Better legislation handed the president a stinging defeat.”

The headline at Rolling Stone magazine was even more brutal: “Joe Manchin Just Tore Out the Heart of Biden’s Agenda.”

Manchin made the announcement on Fox News, repeating his concerns about inflation, the national debt, and the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said.

In an unusual move, the White House responded by attacking Manchin’s credibility, suggesting that he has been less than forthcoming about his position on the legislation.

“Sen. Manchin’s comments this morning on Fox (News) are at odds with his discussions this week with the president, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances,” said presidential spokeswoman Jen Psaki, “Just as Sen. Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.”

Pennsylvania Democrats didn’t hold back their criticisms of their fellow party member from the Mountain State.

“All year I have said that Democrats should vote like Democrats and actually deliver for the American people,” said Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate. “If I was in D.C. I would proudly vote for this bill. If you trust me with your vote in 2022, you’ll always have mine in Washington D.C.”

Incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t seeking re-election next year.

Montgomery County Commissioner’s Chair Val Arkoosh, another Democrat in the Senate primary, tweeted: “Build Back Better marks the most significant climate action ever and meaningful investment in working families. Pennsylvanians and Americans are expecting us to act. And something is deeply wrong in Washington when one senator can block that progress.”

Including Manchin, there are at least 51 votes against the Build Back Better bill, and political pundits believe there are more Democrats, like Sen. Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, who would also oppose the legislation if it came to the floor in its current form.

For Delaware Valley Democrats in the House of Representatives, Manchin’s decision is particularly problematic. They have already voted for a more progressive version of the bill that included controversial policies on state and local tax breaks, green energy, and illegal immigration.

“The Build Back Better Act is not the President’s agenda. It’s the people’s agenda,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester). “This package includes policies that center on American workers, families, students, and the only planet we have—it’s worth fighting for.

“In my few short years down in Washington, I’ve come to understand that legislation like BBB can be much like Schrodinger’s cat-when you think it’s alive, it’s dead. When you think it’s done, it lives. It’s not over until it’s over. It’s too important to look away and give up the ghost.”

“Congresswoman Scanlon is disappointed in Senator Manchin’s statement that he is not willing to support the Build Back Better Act, as the policies contained in the legislation are very popular with her constituents: making the richest Americans pay their fair share, lowering the cost of expenses that keep most Americans up at night (such as child care, health care, and prescription drugs), and making long overdue investments in family leave and our veterans health care,” said Lauren Cox, a spokeswoman for Scanlon (D-Delaware Co.). “She stands by her vote and intends to continue working to pass laws that will enable all families in her district to fully participate and succeed in the 21st century economy.”

Her fellow House member, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Allegheny), tweeted: “I voted for Build Back Better once in the House, & would absolutely vote for it again in the Senate. The only question in this #PASen primary is who you think can beat the Republicans to get there. I’ve done that before, too.”

Lamb is also running in the Democratic Senate primary, as is State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), who took to Twitter with a personal message.

“Both of my parents had diabetes. I watched my mom ration insulin routinely because she had to choose to either cover the rent or get a refill. Because of how much she loved her kids, she chose us,” Kenyatta wrote.

“I buried her when I was 26. Passing BBB isn’t hypothetical to me and so many. In the U.S. Senate you can bet your ass I’d be fighting like hell to deliver on this transformative agenda.”

Although Build Back Better has strong support among Democrats, except Manchin, it was unpopular among the general public, according to Scott Rasmussen.

“At a time when 92 percent of voters see that inflation is a serious problem, most agree with Manchin that the president’s plan would have made things worse,” according to a Rasmussen poll. “The survey also found that 56 percent believe the Build Back Better plan being considered by Congress will make things worse by increasing inflation. Just 14 percent think that legislative plan will help by reducing inflation.”

And what will it mean to Democrats in swing states like Pennsylvania hoping to win races in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.?

“The Build Back Better plan was sold to progressives as inevitable but included so many unpopular provisions that it was unsupportable,” Rasmussen told Delaware Valley Journal.
“The voters who are most enthusiastic at this moment are those who prefer Trump-like policies. The only bad news in polling for Republicans at the moment is that the election is not being held today.”

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Build Back Better Would Block Pell Grant Funding for Career College Students

A spending proposal in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan would deny funding for students who choose to attend private-sector career colleges, rather than public community colleges. It’s a burden that would disproportionately fall on veterans, older students, and people of color.

“We think it’s unfair and it’s unjustified,” said Dr. Jason Altmire, President and CEO of Arlington, Virginia-based Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU). “This has not been done before in the Pell Grant program.”

For decades, low-income students have relied on Pell Grants to access higher education. Biden’s proposal would increase the maximum Pell Grant by $550 (to $7,045), which would fully cover the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at public community colleges in 48 states for students receiving the maximum award, according to the center-left group Third Way.

But while current funding levels would continue for the 900,000 Pell recipients attending career colleges, the White House’s plan would exclude them from the increased BBB funding. That would be a troubling break from traditional education grant funding, which has always followed the student, critics say.

It would also hit West Virginia and Arizona hardest. Arizona would suffer the highest per capita funding loss in the country under this Pell Grant policy, with West Virginia at number two.



“We are working very hard with both Republicans and Democrats to carry that message that this is unfair, it’s unprecedented and we support what’s best for our students which is equality in the Pell Grant program,” Altmire said.

Career colleges, which place a greater focus on job skills and workforce qualification than traditional colleges, tend to be more popular with non-traditional students, such as older students and military veterans. Career college students are also disproportionately people of color.

“There’s a lot of reasons why people might choose that type of setting,” said Altmire, a Democrat who represented Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District from 2007 to 2013. “Reasons include more flexible hours, or they just like the campus or the program. Some prefer the classes because they’re more intense and they’ll finish more quickly and get back in the workforce.”

During the Obama administration, the Department of Education also tried to restrict federal funding for career college students. Some in the education community believe it’s because progressive elements in the Democratic Party are ideologically opposed to the for-profit model. They support policies like a proposal backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)  to spend $109 billion on free community college for everyone.

That proposal was stripped from the version of the Build Back Better bill passed by the House in November.

One outspoken career college opponent is Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank, and a former member of the Obama Department of Education.

“For-profits have over many decades been associated with scandals and students being ripped off,” Shireman told The Washington Post. “Every time the government tries to institute controls, the for-profit institutions claim they are being targeted. They fight it or undermine it by adding loopholes.”

Shireman left his job in the Obama Department of Education “under an ethical cloud,” according to a government watchdog organization, after leading the administration’s attacks on career colleges.

In fact, data show career colleges have a median completion rate that is twice as high as public career colleges.

“We produce half the truck drivers in the country,” says Altmire. “So, if you want to talk about the supply chain and the issue associated with the shortage of truck drivers, I don’t know how they think they’re going to solve that problem by disincentivizing people from going to those types of schools.”

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) also objects to restricting these grants.

“While a $550 increase to the maximum Pell Grant is a welcome upfront investment toward making college more affordable for low-income students, we are concerned to see these funds parceled out by institutional sector, which will add new complexity to a financial aid system on the verge of much-needed simplification,” NASFAA President Justin Draeger said in a recent interview.

“The best place to address concerns about institutional quality at some proprietary institutions should be in the institutional eligibility and accountability provisions in the Higher Education Act, not by making programmatic changes that add complexities to students.”

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‘Build Back Better’ Plan Includes Higher Costs for Heating Oil, Natural Gas

Environmental activists call it a “methane fee.” The energy industry calls it a “natural gas tax.” Either way, Pennsylvania consumers are likely to feel the effects in their pocketbooks.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on its version of the budget reconciliation bill — also known as the “Build Back Better” bill — which includes increased fees on methane emissions. Methane is a byproduct of oil and natural gas production, and as a result, the fee would be an increase in the cost of production.

Environmentalists say reducing methane is essential to the fight against climate change. At the COP26 meeting in Scotland last week, the United States announced it will participate in the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions 30 percent by 2030.

“Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere,” says Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on its website. “Even though CO2 has a longer-lasting effect, methane sets the pace for warming in the near term.”

As National Geographic reports, “Whereas carbon dioxide persists for centuries, most methane converts to carbon dioxide or gets cycled out of the atmosphere within about a decade.”

Meanwhile, two of the world’s biggest methane emitters — China nor Russia — refused to sign the Global Methane Pledge.

And energy producers point to America’s surging costs to heat their homes this winter and the wider inflation problem as evidence this is the wrong time to add costs to consumers’ utility bills.

“This is nothing more than a tax on natural gas at a time when policymakers should be focused on solutions that support affordable, reliable energy while reducing emissions,” says API Senior Vice President of Policy, Economics and Regulatory Affairs Frank Macchiarola.

“We must continue to drive down methane emissions without adding new burdens on American families and businesses,” added said Karen Harbert, President and CEO of the American Gas Association. “Our analysis indicates that the proposed tax could increase natural gas bills from 12 percent to 34 percent, depending on the variation of the proposal assessed.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat representing natural-gas producing West Virginia, has been reluctant to support legislation with a tax or fee on methane. As a result, House Democrats have been trying to find ways to change the terminology and get Manchin’s blessing once the bill is approved in the House and sent to the Senate. Democrats’ have a razor-thin majority in both chambers and need the support of every Democrat in the Senate.

Winning over Manchin has not been, and will not be, easy.

“Major oil and gas companies are actively investing in, developing, and using new technologies to detect and repair leaks, which are known to be a public health risk and contribute to climate change,” Manchin said in August 2020.

Delaware Valley U.S. Reps. Madeleine Dean (D), Mary Gay Scanlon (D), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R) declined to respond to requests for comment about the upcoming Build Back Better bill vote.

Meanwhile, API’s Frank Macchiarola says methane is already being regulated.

“The direct regulation of methane by the EPA is the most impactful way to build on the downward trend of methane emission rates in key producing regions rather than a duplicative and punitive natural gas tax that would only hurt American consumers and undermine the economic recovery,” says Macchiarola.

Gordon Tomb, senior adviser to CO2 Coalition, does not see a need for the regulations.

“Methane makes up a minuscule portion of the atmosphere — less than two parts per million — and together with carbon dioxide contributes an estimated 0.012 degrees C a year — an amount too small to even measure,” says Tomb. “Regulating emissions of either gas has no basis in science and imposes an unnecessary burden on businesses and the people who buy their products.”

And, Tomb added, “When politicians are talking about regulating methane, they are usually talking about taxing methane that gets leaked to the environment during production operations, treating that methane as a pollutant,” says Tomb. “Of course, methane is put into the atmosphere from all kinds of sources, and in the scheme of things the amount in the atmosphere is quite small irrespective of where it is coming from.”

The Marcellus Shale Coalition has also warned that taxes or fees would be bad for everyone.

“Layering more taxes on strongly regulated domestic energy production increases costs for those who produce and rely on these essential resources, with low-and fixed-income families shouldering the disproportionate share of the tax hike,” the group wrote in a September letter that included the Gas & Oil Association of West Virginia and the Ohio Oil & Gas Association.

And while organizations including the Sierra Club say fossil fuel organizations do not care about the environment, Marcellus Shale Coalition begs to differ.

“Our members are fully committed to improving air quality and further reducing all emission sources, particularly methane since it is the very product we sell, through leveraging best available technologies and practices.”

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