Democrats pushed their flagship climate change and health care bill toward House passage Friday. They have been thirsty to declare victory on their three-pronged plan for energy, tax policy and health care.
The so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” goes on for 755 pages and costs $700 billion. Still, the IRA costs only one-fifth as much as a previous plan: the now-stalled Build Back Better Act.
The Build Back Better act has stalled in the Senate since last year… but it provides a window into the Democrats’ priorities and their plans for the future.
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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., called the IRA “another transformative bill brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Democratic Party.” Jeffries is the fourth-ranked Democrat in the House and a potential successor to Pelosi, who has spoken about her intention to retire from party leadership next year.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal — a Democrat of Washington state and the chair of the House Progressive Caucus — went even further. She said Democrats would spend even more on child care, housing and Medicare if they win larger majorities in Congress, but that “today, let’s celebrate this massive investment for the people.”
Republicans were set to solidly oppose the legislation, calling it a cornucopia of wasteful liberal daydreams that would raise taxes and families’ living costs. They did the same Sunday but Senate Democrats banded together and used Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote to power the measure through that 50-50 chamber.
“Democrats believe they can spend their way out of inflation and tax their way out of recession,” said Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo. “It will only make the suffering Americans face today that much worse.”
The Build Back Better Act also envisioned free prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and an easing of immigration restrictions. That $3.5 trillion plan crashed amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who used the leverage every Democrat has in the 50-50 Senate.
Republicans say the legislation’s new business taxes will increase prices, worsening the nation’s bout with its worst inflation since 1981. Though Democrats have labeled the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, nonpartisan analysts say it will have negligible impact on prices one way or the other.
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The bill caps a fertile three months in which Congress has voted to improve veterans’ health benefits, gird the semiconductor industry, moderately strengthen gun restrictions for younger buyers, finance Ukraine’s war with Russia and add Finland and Sweden to NATO. All passed with bipartisan support, suggesting Republicans also want to display their productive side.
It’s unclear whether voters will reward Democrats for the legislation after months of painfully high inflation dominating voters’ attention and Biden’s dangerously low popularity with the public and a steady history of midterm elections that batter the party holding the White House.
The bill had its roots in early 2021, after Congress approved a $1.9 trillion measure over GOP opposition to combat the pandemic-induced economic downturn. Emboldened, the new president and his party reached further.
They called their $3.5 trillion plan Build Back Better. Besides social and environmental initiatives, it proposed rolling back Trump-era tax breaks for the rich and corporations. It also proposed $555 billion for climate efforts, well above the resources in Friday’s legislation.
With Manchin opposing those amounts, it was sliced to a roughly $2 trillion measure that Democrats moved through the House in November. Manchin unexpectedly sank that bill too, earning scorn from exasperated fellow Democrats from Capitol Hill and the White House.
With on-and-off closed-door talks between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., seemingly dying, the two lawmakers shocked Washington and announced an agreement last month on this Inflation Reduction Act, a spiritual successor to the Build Back Better Act.
Manchin won billions for carbon capture technology for the fossil fuel industries he champions, plus procedures for more oil drilling on federal lands and promises for faster energy project permitting.
Swing voter Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also won concessions, eliminating planned higher taxes on hedge fund managers and helping win funds for drought relief in the Western U.S.
In other words, Manchin and Sinema have proven themselves to be persuadable… and the other congressional Democrats have already written an agenda.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.