Astonished Democrats set to clear finish line with climate, tax, health care package
For more than a year, Democrats have wrestled with the massive climate, health care and tax package at the center of their domestic agenda, triggering clashes between the various party factions and sparking doubts about President Biden’s capacity to unite his troops behind transformative legislation.
This week’s vote to get the enormous proposal over the finish line will feature no such drama.
House Democrats of all stripes are lining up to approve the Senate’s $740 billion tax-and-spending package on Friday when the lower chamber returns briefly to Washington, sending the legislation to Biden’s desk and securing a huge win for the president and his party less than three months from the midterm elections.
It seems likely the bill could clear the House without a single Democratic defection, whether from the left or center of the party.
The universal accolades reflect, at least in part, the Democrats’ astonishment that they’re voting on any major part of Biden’s domestic agenda at all.
Just a few weeks ago, the prospects of enacting a massive climate package this year appeared to be dead, buried under the opposition of centrist senators — most notably Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — wary of exacerbating inflation with new federal spending.
The bill’s revival — a deal worked out privately between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — has drastically expanded the Democrats’ legislative accomplishments under Biden, providing them a late political boost as they head into midterm elections that are expected to shift control of the House to the Republicans.
“This is a big deal. This is historic. And I’m anxious to get it to the floor, pass it and get it to the president’s desk,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, told reporters in the Capitol Wednesday night.
“People like me wanted a lot more, right? But the bottom line is you can only get done what’s possible within the reality you’re living,” he continued. “And in any other Congress, if we were to pass one of these things — one component of what is in this reconciliation bill — it would be huge.”
The package features major changes across the spectrum of domestic policy, including efforts to slash drug costs for seniors, expand health care subsidies for the working classes, cut deficit spending via corporate tax hikes and incentivize both businesses and individuals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. All told, it represents the most comprehensive effort to combat climate change in the nation’s history.
“It’s a great bill; it’s historic,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters this week in the Capitol. “I want more, of course — we always want more. But this is a great deal.”
Pelosi and her House Democrats had passed a much larger package late last year: a $2 trillion proposal that bolstered not only environmental and health care programs, but also a number of social benefit initiatives — things like child care subsidies, universal preschool and paid family leave — that were left out of the slimmer bill passed by the Senate on Sunday.
The exclusions have prompted some grumbling from progressive lawmakers who’d fought for a more expansive package, but none of them appear ready to oppose the Senate bill to protest its size.
Indeed, House liberals — including the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the members of the far-left “squad” — have been all praise, cheering on the legislation as it’s moved through the Senate to the House for Friday’s vote.
“While we are heartbroken to see several essential pieces on the care economy, housing, and immigration left on the cutting room floor — as well as a successful Republican effort to remove insulin price caps for those with private insurance — we know that the Inflation Reduction Act takes real steps forward on key progressive priorities,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the head of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.
Across the ideological divide, leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of centrist Democratic budget hawks, are also hailing the package as transformative, touting its powers to reduce federal deficit spending on top of the domestic initiatives it promotes.
“We remain laser-focused on solving our nation’s major economic, energy, and climate problems for future generations, and will move swiftly to send this bill to the President’s desk,” the Blue Dog co-chairs — Reps. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) — said in a statement.
With a razor-thin majority in the House, and every Republican expected to oppose the proposal, Democrats will need the support of almost every member of the caucus to get it to Biden’s desk. But if last year’s vote on the $2 trillion package is any preview, they have little reason to worry.
That larger Build Back Better package had passed easily; only one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden (Maine), had voted against it. And the smaller Senate bill is expected to sail through the House on Friday in similar fashion.
“If you can get Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer and Kyrsten Sinema all to vote for something … I’ve got to believe this is going to pass,” McGovern said. “I don’t know of any Democrats that are going to defect.”
Golden’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but local media reports indicate he has praised at least parts of the Senate bill.
For Pelosi, who has led House Democrats for almost two decades, the bill represents a huge legislative victory in a long career that’s been full of them. It also includes a number of provisions that she’d prioritized in her first stint as Speaker, more than a decade ago, but failed to enact.
In 2009, for instance, House Democrats had passed a sweeping climate change bill only to see it go ignored by Democrats in the Senate. A separate proposal empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prescription prices for seniors also moved through the lower chamber during those years, but did not become law.
“This is something we’ve been fighting for decades, and Big Pharma has had a grip on the Congress,” she said this week.
Across the aisle, Republicans have decidedly different views of the enormous package, saying the soon-to-be-passed legislation will only damage a fragile economy already reeling from months of instability and rising consumer costs. GOP leaders are also focusing squarely on one provision of the package — new funds for the IRS to go after tax cheats — with warnings that it will empower the nation’s tax collectors to “harass” working class people.
“When you have more cops, you have more arrests,” Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), the senior Republican on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said this week in an interview with Fox News. “You’re going to see a lot of that revenue to pay for this bill coming from those middle-class working families who can least afford the IRS targeting and harassing them.”
Democrats have dismissed the GOP criticisms, noting that the major provisions of the package all score high in public opinion polls. If the victory doesn’t change the broader outcome of the midterm elections, they say, it can do nothing but help them in individual races.
“I wouldn’t want to go home and explain to my constituents why I voted against lowering their prescription drug costs … or go home and say I did nothing to combat the climate crisis or I did nothing to pay down the debt,” McGovern said.
“I mean, if that’s what they want, they can go ahead and do it.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.