Biden signs expansive health, climate bill into law
President Biden signed into law a sweeping bill to lower health care costs and address climate change on Tuesday, sealing a legislative victory more than a year in the making.
The $740 billion bill was significantly slimmed down from the original $3.5 trillion package some envisioned last fall, but nevertheless represents an undeniable win for Biden and Democrats in Congress. It includes some of Biden’s key campaign promises and makes the largest investment in federal climate programs in history.
“With unwavering conviction, commitment, and patience, progress does come,” Biden said in the State Dining Room as he prepared to sign the legislation. “And when it does, like today, people’s lives are made better and the future becomes brighter and a nation can be transformed.”
Biden was introduced by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who negotiated with Schumer to move the package forward, sat in the front row at the signing and was the only other senator in attendance. He received a round of applause when Schumer credited him with getting the legislation across the finish line.
Biden said he looked forward to signing the bill for 18 months and was flanked by lawmakers when he did so, handing the first pen dramatically off to Manchin.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, deputy national climate adviser Ali Zaidi and Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), among others, attended the event at the White House.
The room gave a long standing ovation for Biden when he got to the podium. He wore a mask in the room when he wasn’t speaking because first lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 earlier on Tuesday.
“Joe, I never had a doubt,” Biden said, referring to Manchin, to laughter from the room.
“He’s very optimistic,” Manchin told reporters after the bill signing in response to Biden’s comment. The senator also said that it was a “very nice gesture” that Biden handed him the first signing pen.
The bill passed through party-line votes in the Senate and House in recent weeks; no Republicans voted in favor of the package.
By 2030, the law is expected to bring U.S. planet-warming emissions down to lower than they were in 2005 through many of its provisions to promote the deployment of clean energy. It also contains provisions that boost fossil fuels, which were included to secure the support of Manchin.
The bill became tailored to focus on bringing down health care costs and addressing climate change throughout negotiations over the past year. It will allow Medicare to negotiate prices for some drugs and shore up health insurance subsidies, giving Democrats a victory over a pharmaceutical industry that has long opposed such measures.
“In this historic moment, Democrats sided with the American people and every single Republican in the congress sided with the special interests,” Biden told the room.
Manchin, after the bill signing, praised the legislation and credited Biden’s involvement, saying a bill of “this magnitude” doesn’t pass without the president “knowing what’s going on.”
“In any other atmosphere, this would be a bipartisan bill,” the senator said. “I truly believe I’ve never seen a more balanced bill.”
The White House has pointed to the bill as a way to lower costs for American families during a period of high inflation, though some of the provisions of the bill that will ultimately lower prescription drug costs will take years to go into effect.
Still, Democrats view the climate change provisions in particular as game-changing investments.
“It will make the U.S. a global clean energy powerhouse and very likely we will look back on this as the start of a clean energy economic revolution in the same way we look back at the early 1990s as the IT revolution,” said Josh Freed, leader of the climate and energy program at centrist Democratic think tank Third Way.
In introductory remarks, Clyburn declared that the bill would “lead to transformative change in this country.”
Schumer declared it the “boldest climate bill ever.”
“If the last two months could be summed up in a word, it would be persistence,” Schumer added.
Biden’s signing of the bill is expected to kick off a multistate tour to promote the legislation and other administration accomplishments, with less than three months until the November midterm elections.
Biden, who is headed home to Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday night for the remainder of his summer vacation, is scheduled to attend a Democratic National Committee event in Maryland next Thursday. The president is also expected to host another event early next month to celebrate the passage of the bill.
Through the end of August, Cabinet members like Vice President Harris, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, are expected to take 35 trips to 23 states to discuss the benefits of the new law with the public.
The bill would pay for climate and health measures by introducing new taxes on large corporations with the package’s tax plan involving a 15 percent minimum tax on the income that big companies report to shareholders. The tax would exempt companies taking advantage of accelerated depreciation, a popular deduction that helps pay for capital investments, which was included to secure the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
The bill also places a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks. And it includes a boost to the IRS to go after high-income Americans who are paying less in taxes. The IRS will receive $80 billion to increase enforcement and another $15 million to fund a task force on determining how the IRS can deliver a “direct e-file tax return system.”
Manchin rejected GOP criticism that the bill gives too much funding to the IRS, saying it would bring staffing at the agency back to levels from the 1990s. He also pushed back on Republicans claiming that it’s misleading to call the measure the Inflation Reduction Act.
“If I can get your utility prices down, that’s fighting inflation,” he said, adding that the package will also help lower gas prices and that it gives $4 billion to fight the western drought.
“Maybe just the politics of the day,” he said on why Republicans don’t like the bill.
—Updated at 5:17 p.m.