Biden is set to rack up some wins. But will it help him?

AP-Susan Walsh
President Joe Biden speaks about “The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Biden is poised to rack up some much-needed legislative wins with the China competition bill headed to his desk and a deal in the Senate on a budget reconciliation package. 

The bills, provided they both become law, will hand Biden and the Democrats some immediate, tangible accomplishments to take to voters three months out from the midterm elections.  

But it’s unclear whether they will be enough to overcome the disquiet over surging inflation and the possibility of a recession that has voters souring on the Biden presidency. 

The developments have suddenly breathed new life into Biden’s domestic economic agenda, which appeared on more than one occasion to be dead. And Democrats are feeling quite optimistic. 

“This helps. There’s no doubt. This is a big deal on the policy front and the political front for the Democrats. It means that the Biden agenda got through without any fumbles,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way.  

Kessler pointed to past midterm elections when the party in power failed to pass key campaign promises — the failures of “Hillarycare” under President Bill Clinton in 1994, cap-and-trade under Barack Obama in 2010 and the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act under Donald Trump in 2018. 

The semiconductor bill makes a major investment in domestic manufacturing to boost U.S. competitiveness and solve supply chain woes.  

The bigger package would represent the most significant funding to fight climate change to date, an extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies, a deal to lower prescription drug costs, a corporate tax hike and billions to pay down the national debt.

Polling has showed that these elements are broadly popular, and Democrats hope they will provide some energy to the party’s base, which has been disappointed with a lack of action. 

Biden stressed that the package is a “big deal” and argued that it will lower inflationary pressures on the economy.  

“I know it can sometimes seem like nothing gets done in Washington,” he said Thursday. “Then the hard work of hours and days and months of people refusing to give up pays off. History is made, lives are changed.”  

The semiconductor bill passed with GOP support, giving Biden another bipartisan win to point to. 

Keith Krach, undersecretary of state under former President Trump and chairman of the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University, called the bill “a real moonshot moment because the ripple effect will be tremendous.”  

Before the China competition bill passed and the reconciliation package gained steam, Democrats were focused on the bipartisan infrastructure law and the American Rescue Plan — both of which were passed last year — as big accomplishments to share with voters. 

Congress also passed a bipartisan gun control bill, which was another major priority of the president although it was slimmed down from Democrats’ original plan. And Congress passed two bipartisan assistance packages to support Ukraine as it fights Russia’s military invasion. 

David Thomas, a Democratic strategist ​at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas and former deputy director of legislative affairs for former Vice President Al Gore, argued that Biden is on the verge of accomplishing more in his first two years than any president in decades. 

“With the thinnest of majorities in the House and Senate, he will have passed historic legislation addressing pandemic recovery, infrastructure, innovation, health care, climate, gun safety, and inflation,” Thomas said. “This is the agenda he ran on in 2020 and his success gives Democrats a real fighting chance in the midterms to buck historic trends and hold on to their majorities this November.” 

A question for Democrats is whether they can turn support for the bills into votes in November. To do so, strategists say they’ll need to sell the two packages as victories. 

“I think the political benefits are going to depend on how well Democrats do on communicating with voters. That’s something that will happen later. In terms of impact, these bills will clearly make America stronger and they’re going to help people,” said Phil Schiliro, former director of legislative affairs to President Obama. 

Biden’s remarks on Thursday showed that the party will try to sell the bill as an answer to the biggest issue on the public’s mind: the economy and inflation.  

The package is now called the “Inflation Reduction Act.”

“I think the name in itself speaks to the moment,” said Danielle Melfi, executive director of Building Back Together, a group that promotes the Biden agenda. “With any piece of legislation or any message, the important thing is for us to make sure we are connecting these issues to what is resonating most clearly for the American people.” 

“We know that the American people right now care about getting their costs down, and that’s exactly what this package does,” she said. 

The reconciliation package could help energize elements of the Democratic base that became disillusioned with the lack of action in Congress after Manchin jettisoned talks around the House-passed Build Back Better bill last December. 

Young voters, for example, are particularly hungry for federal action on climate change. The Manchin-approved bill contains almost $370 billion in climate and energy funding.  

Varshini Prakash, executive director of the progressive environmental group the Sunrise Movement, described the bill as a positive start but also criticized elements that would continue fossil fuel use. She said that young people are looking for even more aggressive action from the administration, such as declaring a national emergency with respect to climate change.  

“To me, the way to make the best case to young people that engaging in the political process is worth something, that voting, that organizing is meaningful, and that their politicians are listening, is to show tangible changes in our economy and in our society that have happened because they fought for it,” Prakash said. 

Tags Barack Obama Biden Charles Schumer China Climate change Inflation Jim Kessler Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Manchin Semiconductor manufacturing

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