At a time when American democracy looks increasingly vulnerable, President Biden and the Democrats have pointed to their landmark third bill as proof that American government is working again.
An investment of nearly $400 billion in clean energy subsidies will mark the most serious effort by the United States to date to combat climate change. A cap on prescription drug costs will ensure that seniors on Medicare pay no more than $2,000 a year for their drugs. And an expansion of subsidies related to the COVID-19 pandemic will reduce health care costs for 13 million Americans.
None of these long-awaited changes to U.S. law likely appeared a month ago, when the final negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and centrist Sen. Joe Manchin III ( DW.Va.), the party’s crucial 50th vote in the equally divided Senate, seemed to break down.
But on Tuesday, President Biden sat at a small desk in the dining room of the White House, scribbled his name in ink on the $700 billion Inflation Cut Act, and made of all these changes a reality.
Biden called the package proof of Democrats’ commitment to achieving their political goals.
“We’re in for a season of substance,” he said before signing the bill.
“Today offers further proof,” he continued, “that America’s soul is vibrant, America’s future is bright, and America’s promise is real and just getting started.”
The bill, the president added, “aims to show the American people that democracy still works in America — despite all the … rhetoric about its demise.”
Democrats, despite their narrow majority in the House and a tie to Republicans in the Senate, have now succeeded – apparently the last possible second — to deliver on many of their 2020 campaign promises.
The deal is far less than Biden had hoped for when he backed a $3.5 trillion proposal that included paid family leave, an extended child tax credit and other benefits for families. who work a year ago. But the ultimate compromise is much more than most Democrats expected earlier this summer. After months of frustration with Manchin, many Democrats are thrilled that his bill will ultimately go this far.
The final compromise passed through the Senate and then the House, even without a single Republican vote. The House approved the measure, 220 to 207, on Friday, just days after shouted by the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris voting with the Democratic caucus to break a 50-50 tie.
Democratic lawmakers have given themselves another achievement to present to voters this fall — one that casts the Biden presidency, mired in a difficult 12-month stretch, in a new light.
Last week, Biden signed a bipartisan bill to boost domestic microchip production, another one provide health care to veterans exposed to toxic materials on the battlefield, and formal membership protocols for Finland and Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move the Senate approved by a vote of 95 to 1.
With the Cut Inflation Act signed into law on Tuesday, Biden aides say his first-term legislative achievements surpass those of his recent predecessors.
The Inflation Reduction Act and the 2021 Act $1.9 trillion US bailout passed on party line votes – but the microchip bill, veterans health bill and last year’s bill Trillion Dollar Infrastructure Overhaul all won some Republican support, fulfilling a vow by Biden to bring bipartisan legislation back to Washington.
“For anyone who thought Washington was broken and couldn’t do great things, Democrats showed that real change is possible,” Schumer said at Tuesday’s signing ceremony.
But despite the renewed willingness of Republicans and Democrats to sometimes work together in Congress, American democracy remains under threat.
Biden’s predecessor, under investigation on multiple fronts, continues to test the nation’s faith in its own Constitution, undermining the rule of law and fueling America’s already bigoted political-cultural divisions.
Former President Trump’s enduring hold on an angry and increasingly undemocratic Republican electorate was confirmed again Tuesday night, when Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who used her place on the House committee investigating January 6, 2021, insurrection to oppose Trump returning to office, lost to a primary challenger he had backed. And the almost uninterrupted media coverage of Trump’s legal exposure since the FBI search and recovery last week of boxes of highly classified material from its Palm Beach, Florida estate has already overwhelmed coverage of Democratic victories on Capitol Hill.
“Republicans talk about stolen elections and how they won’t certify [the vote] in 2024, and Democrats are talking about how they’re passing landmark legislation. They’re just in totally different universes,” said Sarah Longwell, GOP consultant, media personality and founder of the Republican Voters Against Trump group.
The parties’ disagreement over the merits of the Cut Inflation Act will be a point of critical contrast as they campaign this fall. Bill’s $375 billion in spending, tax credits and loans include measures to boost use of solar panels, improve home energy efficiency, add emissions-reducing equipment to coal and gas-fired power plants and to implement air pollution controls for farms, ports and low-income communities. Democrats hope that together these efforts will significantly reduce carbon emissions over the next decade.
“This bill is the biggest climate step forward ever,” Biden said Tuesday.
In the short term, the bill delivers what environmental activists and many young voters have been asking for.
“This bill responds to the moment,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters. “In securing the biggest investment ever to tackle the climate crisis, Democrats have married necessary politics with smart politics.”
Longwell’s recent focus groups with Democratic voters, she noted, were marked by a sudden enthusiasm that had been lacking for months. The push for legislative achievements, she said, “helps push back against this narrative that Democrats are incompetent and powerless.”
“The reason it feels like the best of times and the worst of times is because of the [Supreme Court’s] abortion decision and all those Trump cronies winning the Republican primaries,” she continued. “Democrats see victories but also the looming threat, and that refocuses the conversation so it’s not all about inflation and the economy.”
While Democrats plan to argue they’ve done what they promised to do, Republicans will say extra spending is reckless during a time of runaway inflation, and corporate tax hikes, which Democrats say will offset new spending and reduce the deficit, will instead stifle economic growth.
The GOP also criticized the package’s new $80 billion funding to the Internal Revenue Service, which will allow the hiring of thousands of new staff to reduce the agency’s backlog and conduct more taxpayer audits. Although Democrats insist the additional audits will focus on the wealthy, Republicans have sought to convince middle-class voters that they, too, will come under greater scrutiny.
“The partisan bill that President Biden signed into law today means higher taxes, higher energy bills and aggressive IRS audits,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (R-Ky.) tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
Manchin, who spoke to reporters at the White House after the ceremony, insisted the new law would live up to its name and reduce inflation over time.
“Tell me another time we paid off the debt, provided more energy, lowered prices at the pump, lowered prices at home,” he said. “At any other time, it would have been a bipartisan bill.”
Considering the package as a whole a political winner, the White House is set to launch a blitz in August, with Cabinet members traveling to 23 states to explain the measure’s benefits.
“Our internal poll shows that messages touting the cost-cutting features of the Cut Inflation Act – cutting health care costs, prescription drug costs and utility bills – are among highest test messages on record,” White House senior adviser Anita Dunn and deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote in a memo last week. “We will make it clear that the President and the Democrats in Congress defeated special interests and delivered what was best for the American people.”
At the signing ceremony, Biden offered insight into his party’s campaign season rhetoric, saying “Democrats have stood with the American people and every Republican in Congress has stood with the interests of individuals”.
Democrats will hold a bigger celebration of the legislation on Sept. 6, when lawmakers return to Washington.