Progressives raise pressure on moderate Democrats to back party-line climate measure

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Two of the country’s leading progressive groups announced a $10 million ad campaign on Tuesday to raise the pressure on moderate Democrats to back a party-line climate change package.

The League of Conservation of Voters and Climate Power said the ads are targeting exclusively moderate Democrats in the House and Senate. The campaign will include television and digital media ads, as well as local billboards and newspaper advertisements.

Overall, Democratic lawmakers from 16 states and 23 House districts will be targeted.

“We are out of time to act on the climate crisis and environmental justice and voters across the country know it,” said Pete Maysmith, a senior vice president at the League of Conservation of Voters. “It’s imperative that Congress invests in climate … to meet the moment, put our nation on the path to 100% carbon-free energy powering our electricity grid and new cars, buses, and buildings by 2035, and build healthy, safe communities.”

The campaign comes as President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators have fashioned a $1.2 infrastructure deal. Much to the chagrin of progressives, however, that package focuses heavily on traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges, rather than combating climate change.

Progressive lawmakers are threatening to derail the bipartisan effort by withholding their support. In exchange for their votes, progressives demand that Senate Democrats agree to pass a climate-change bill along party lines via budget reconciliation.

The process allows spending bills to pass the evenly divided Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Reconciliation is the only way a big-spending climate-change bill can avoid being killed by a likely GOP filibuster in the Senate. Non-spending legislation needs at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Such a feat is likely impossible for any climate bill favored by progressives.

“If you’re really serious about this, look at traditional infrastructure, and that is roads, bridges, rural broadband, which is so important to the country right now,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, during an appearance on Fox News over the weekend. “And not muck it up with things that have nothing to do with infrastructure.”

Given that Republican support is unlikely, the only hope for an ambitious climate-change bill is reconciliation. That path, though, is fraught with political risk and hinges on widespread unity among Democrats.

At that moment, such unity is far from assured. Moderate Democrats, in particular, fret that backing a climate bill could doom their chances at reelection in 2022. The fear is especially notable among House Democrats, who at the moment only have a slim, single-digit majority.

“Everyone can see that next year is going to be tough for Democrats, historically the first midterm of a new administration is when the president’s party gets obliterated,” said an aide to one moderate Democratic lawmaker. “So there is little incentive to back a multitrillion-[dollar] bill that [progressives] love, but Republicans can hammer you on in the general election.”

Groups like Climate Power and the League of Conservation Voters hope to allay those concerns, or at least show lawmakers there is just as much support for reconciliation.

“This is our climate moment,” said Lori Lodes, the executive director of Climate Power. “The climate crisis is real and we have the workforce to fix it. The House and Senate must pass a strong reconciliation package that delivers on President Biden’s promise of 100% clean electricity and reducing pollution.”

It is unclear, though, if the campaign will make much headway with the Senate Democrats who most needed for reconciliation.

Within the 50-50 chamber, moderate Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are unlikely to support a reconciliation package acceptable to the far Left. Mr. Manchin has signaled that his ceiling on reconciliation is between $1.5-to-$2 trillion, provided it is paid for by repealing the Trump-era tax cuts.

While Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema are targeted by the $10 million pressure campaign, neither is up for reelection until 2024. The timing means that both lawmakers can afford to balk at the demands of progressives without facing immediate risks.

The in-fighting between progressive and moderate Democrats evidenced by the new ad campaign has become a defining feature of the Biden presidency.

Last week, progressives and environmental activists protested in front of the White House and at the office of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer in New York.

In Washington, protesters touted signs that read “Biden, you coward, fight for us,” while attempting to block access to the White House.

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