Five big end-of-year wins for Democrats

Five big end-of-year wins for Democrats
© Greg Nash

Democrats are enjoying a string of policy victories in a series of high-profile deals with the White House and Republicans that closed the first year of a Democratic majority in the House.

The big wins came even as the House focused on the impeachment of President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE, something that in the end might have helped the party secure some legislative victories.

Trump wanted deals to highlight during his reelection campaign, and House and Senate Republicans were interested in delivering for him. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Jan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-Calif.) wanted policy wins for vulnerable Democrats, who are trying to talk less about impeachment.

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To be sure, Democrats did not get everything they were after.

They failed to claw back Trump’s moves to restrict access to abortion or to block his use of emergency power to transfer money toward building a border wall. They also did not lower the number of immigration beds funded for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, extend federal credits for solar power or broaden a credit for electric vehicles.

Yet some of the victories Pelosi and her caucus won represent efforts that Democrats have been working toward for years. Here’s a look at some of the biggest wins.

Gun violence research funding

The spending bill includes $25 million for federal agencies to study gun violence — a big win for Democrats in a long-fought battle. 

Government funding for gun violence research came to a halt in 1996, when Congress passed the Dickey Amendment blocking federal agencies from advocating for gun control. Democrats have tried to restore funding and repeal the amendment ever since but were blocked by Republicans and gun rights activists.  

Restoring funding was a top priority for Democrats when they retook the House majority last year. 

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“It was certainly a must for me,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroAmerican workers need us to get this pandemic under control around the world Democrats press Biden to step up fight against domestic hunger A permanent Child Tax Credit expansion will yield dividends to taxpayers MORE (Conn.), a key Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats won over Republicans by keeping the Dickey Amendment in place, assuring them that research wouldn’t be used to promote gun control. While Democrats have tried repealing the amendment in recent years, they backed off those efforts in a compromise to get funding. 

Clarifying language was also added to last year’s spending bill, stating that federal agencies weren’t prohibited from researching gun violence. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it needed direct appropriations from Congress to do it. 

Half of the $25 million will go to the CDC and the other half will go to the National Institutes of Health. 

More money for climate research, election security and the 2020 census

Republicans and Democrats have supported steady increases in defense and domestic spending since Trump took office in 2017, and the year-end budget deal passed this week was loaded with funding for Democratic priorities.

The bills included investments in the 2020 census, election security grants and boosts for National Science Foundation, NASA and climate research through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Labor enforcement in USMCA

The new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to be voted on Thursday in the House would create independent panels to ensure Mexican factories are complying with the new trade deal.

It also allows the U.S. to impose tariffs on firms that violate the deal’s labor standards.

These represent major concessions by Trump that led the AFL-CIO to endorse a trade deal negotiated by a Republican president.

Such a scenario would have been hard to believe not that long ago, especially in the heat of impeachment.

The agreement, which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, would limit the ability of companies to sue countries over regulations that could impede their international sales, another long-standing Democratic goal.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees Wyden releases new tax proposals as Democrats work on .5T bill MORE (D-Ohio), a fierce critic of many trade deals, says he’ll back the new agreement.

Passage of the deal is a huge win for Trump. But the fact that the AFL-CIO and Brown are endorsing it shows it includes things prized by parts of the left.

Pharmaceuticals in trade

Another win for Democrats in the new trade deal is on pharmaceuticals.

The new deal with Mexico and Canada does not include a provision that would have locked in 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs, which are made from living organisms rather than synthetic chemicals. 

Democrats said the provision would have contributed to high prescription drug prices and insisted on changing it before supporting the deal.

The change is a major shift in Republican priorities and a blow to the pharmaceutical industry. A similar disagreement over drug patents scuttled congressional approval of the Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. 

But the politics over drug pricing have changed significantly, and Democrats knew Republicans wanted the trade deal more than they wanted the market protections. Trump has also made lowering drug prices a key part of his 2020 campaign, and many of the policies he has embraced run counter to the traditional Republican approach.

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Democrats argued that removing the protection language preserves Congress’s ability to change current law without being bound by the constraints of the trade deal. In the U.S., biologics are protected from generic competition for 12 years, but one of the legislative solutions eyed by House progressives is a bill that would lower the exclusivity period of biologics to seven years — something that would have violated the trade agreement if the language had not been dropped.

Biologic drugs make up a small portion of prescriptions but can cost thousands of dollars. They are one of the main drivers of drug spending in the country and have little competition.

Paid family leave in NDAA

The National Defense Authorization Act, a sprawling annual defense policy bill, included a peculiar trade-off that delivered a long-sought victory for Democrats. 

The party secured 12 weeks of parental leave for every federal worker in exchange for authorizing the Space Force, a new military branch proposed by Trump aimed at protecting U.S. space assets from threats from Russia and China.

It’s a big win for Democrats — particularly those representing workers in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Niv Elis contributed.