Some $80 billion in climate-related agriculture funding is at risk as President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats try to save at least part of his $1.7 trillion Build Back Better spending package.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Sunday announced his opposition to the House-passed bill after weeks of raising concerns about the amount of spending and the legislation’s clean energy provisions.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Monday that Democrats would continue trying to pass the legislation.

The Senate will "consider the Build Back Better Act very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television,” Schumer wrote.

“We are going to vote on a revised version of the House-passed Build Back Better Act — and we will keep voting on it until we get something done.”

Schumer also called a special caucus meeting to be held online Tuesday evening.

The legislation includes several provisions intended to scale up the adoption of cover crops and other climate-related conservation practices and to address climate change through forestry. The bill would authorize payments of $25 an acre to farmers who plant cover crops, increase funding for farm bill conservation programs by more than $20 billion and provide for $2.35 billion in conservation technical assistance over 10 years

“These are provisions that we think are just really good provisions for American agriculture, good for farmers and certainly good for the climate, no matter who’s in power and no matter what legislation is with us,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and a leader of the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, a coalition of major farm groups and leading conservation organizations.

“We’re going to continue to press these issues, whether that’s in … yet another version of Build Back Better, whether that’s some subsequent funding bill, or whether that’s in the farm bill,” he told Agri-Pulse.

The legislation also would authorize $10 billion in child nutrition assistance, partly through expanding eligibility for free school meals. 

The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, John Boozman of Arkansas, issued a statement welcoming Manchin’s announcement.

“Democrats set out to spend billions without any input from myself, my Republican colleagues on the committee or, perhaps most importantly, stakeholders from the agriculture industry and rural America. Not a single hearing was held to determine how to allocate these dollars. Our committee prides itself on its bipartisan history and by going this reckless route, the Democrats have made it far more difficult to work across party lines in the future,” Boozman said.

Manchin had been saying for weeks that he was concerned about the impact the bill could have on inflation and he had objected to provisions, such as an expanded child tax credit, that were designed to be permanent but only funded for a short period in the legislation to limit the bill’s overall cost. He also had raised concerns about funding that was intended to accelerate a shift toward renewable power.

“In the last two years, as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and with bipartisan support, we have invested billions of dollars into clean energy technologies so we can continue to lead the world in reducing emissions through innovation,” Manchin said in a statement Sunday.

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“But to do so at a rate that is faster than technology or the markets allow will have catastrophic consequences for the American people like we have seen in both Texas and California in the last two years,” he added.

A note from Michael Best Strategies suggested the legislation would be overhauled:

"Anyone saying the BBB is dead ... is saying so prematurely. Manchin's move does not "kill" the BBB. It does force Democrats back to the drawing board, which means that they will likely blow past urgent deadlines like the upcoming expiration of the Child Tax Credit paid directly to low-income families, the loss of 'black lung' aid for former mineworkers, and various business tax extenders. However, a few weeks off for the holidays could be what everyone needs before they go back to the drawing board," the note said. 

Liam Donovan, a lobbyist with Bracewell LLP,  said Manchin's announcement "underscores the guiding principle we have long espoused--anything that happens via reconciliation will be on Manchin's terms. Failure to accept this simple reality is a recipe for futility.

"As President Biden and his congressional allies gaze into the legislative abyss in the coming weeks, they'll have to rethink their strategy and come up with a new approach to woo Manchin and salvage their agenda in the new year."

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