Following Manchin’s breakthrough, Democrats are racing to pass climate and health-care legislation
With a long-awaited spending agreement finally in hand, Senate Democrats set about finalizing their economic package on Thursday, hoping to deliver on a key piece of President Biden’s agenda as soon as next week.
The new, urgent push for a vote comes just a day after the party achieved what seemed like an impossible breakthrough: an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WVa.) on a bill that would lower health-care costs, combat climate change, reduce the deficit, and revise the US tax code.
Democrats eagerly began digesting the measure’s size and scope, which amounts to far less than the more ambitious, roughly $2 trillion proposal that the House adopted last year, now that they had 725 pages of legislative text. Nonetheless, a wide range of Democratic lawmakers appeared ready to embrace the new agreement, having seemingly put months of acrimonious bickering with Manchin behind them.
“It doesn’t include everything people wanted in the previous package,” Senator Chris Van Hollen said (D-Md.). “But, I mean, compared to where we thought we were 48 hours ago, this is light-years — light-years — forward.”
The bill includes the largest investment in climate change mitigation in US history, with the goal of boosting clean-energy technology while also providing some of the support Manchin sought for fossil fuels. It also aims to reduce healthcare costs, particularly through Medicare changes that could lower some prescription drug prices for seniors. Later Thursday, Schumer told reporters that Democrats intend to include additional elements aimed at lowering insulin prices.
To cover its costs, the bill seeks to strengthen the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to pursue tax evaders while imposing a minimum tax on corporations, focusing on profitable businesses that pay no taxes to the federal government. It also generates more than $300 billion in revenue that can be used to reduce the federal deficit.
Biden expressed optimism about the country’s prospects during a speech at the White House. While the new proposal, known as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, does not include many of the president’s original, core priorities, he still described it as a set of investments that will put the United States on a “sounder economic footing.”
“I understand that it can appear that nothing gets done in Washington at times. “Government work can be slow, frustrating, and sometimes even infuriating,” said Biden, referring to the lengthy negotiations that led up to the agreement.
“We’re confronting some of our most pressing issues,” he continued, “and we’re taking a giant step forward as a nation.”
The success or failure of Democrats’ efforts now hinges on their ability to maintain unity in an often-fractious party. To move the bill forward, Schumer intends to use a special procedure that will allow lawmakers to pass it with 51 votes rather than the 60 required to overcome a certain Republican filibuster.
However, as of late Thursday, some Democrats had yet to comment on the bill. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a moderate who has raised similar fiscal concerns as Manchin in the past, was among them. Sinema’s aides insisted that she would keep reviewing the legislation, which includes new taxes that some Democrats fear she will oppose.
In response to a question about Sinema’s silence, Schumer told reporters at a press conference that Democratic leaders are “giving everyone time to review the text.”
Other challenges abound, such as the looming threat of a resurgent coronavirus, which has kept a number of Democrats, including Manchin, away from Washington this week. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) has been out for several weeks recovering from hip surgery. Whatever the reason, Senate Democrats cannot afford even one sick or absent senator next week, or their bill will be stalled.
“Covid is a significant barrier to overcome in gathering votes,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “We’re going to work our way through all of this.” We will overcome whatever obstacles arise because we must complete the task.”
Meanwhile, in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) prepared for the difficult task of keeping her own razor-thin majority united. In an encouraging sign, a bipartisan group of lawmakers praised the new agreement with Manchin. Their remarks were notable given that the chamber had passed a more comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s health-care, education, and immigration laws last year, known as the Build Back Better Act, which Manchin’s opposition effectively killed.
“I think it’s an overwhelmingly positive development,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said, adding that “climate progress far outweighs some of the negatives.”
The deal struck between Schumer and Manchin is a far more sweeping plan than Manchin said he was willing to support just two weeks ago. At the time, he informed Democrats that he could not join their pursuit of billions of dollars in new investments to combat global warming, financed in part through tax increases, because he feared it would worsen inflation, which is already high.
Manchin then urged his party to focus on health care if they wanted to act in July, rather than waiting another month for new economic indicators. But the senator revealed new details about his thinking on Thursday, telling reporters that he continued to work behind the scenes with Schumer — without Biden’s involvement — in the hope that Democrats could address his fiscal concerns.
“I know you’re surprised, but you shouldn’t be because I’ve never walked away from anything in my life,” Manchin told reporters.
The breakthrough occurred in part because Manchin ensured that fossil fuels are “recognized as a driving force and player in this piece of legislation,” he said on MetroNews Talkline, a local West Virginia radio show. For starters, Manchin secured support from Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi for an upcoming bill that would simplify permitting for new energy production.
“I wasn’t going to back down from ensuring we have a robust energy portfolio,” Manchin said.
And the senator said he told his staff to “scrub” the bill for potentially inflationary provisions, arguing that the party’s proposed spending could exacerbate the country’s inflationary battle. As a result, leading Democrats dropped some of their initial tax increases. Their final agreement imposes a new minimum rate on corporations, aimed at major multinational corporations that pay no taxes to the United States government, but Manchin said that would not be “inflammatory.”
“This is really going to be about lowering inflation,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, as Manchin spoke, Schumer attempted to rally his caucus. According to a Democratic aide who attended the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation, he emphasized the rare opportunity in front of his party after serving in the minority in Washington for many years.
Democrats have long discussed ways to reduce health-care costs, lower the cost of medicine, and combat climate change, according to Schumer. According to the aide, the majority leader now stated that the party has the opportunity to turn those ideas into law and must seize the moment quickly.
“For years, if not decades, many in Washington have promised to address some of our nation’s most pressing challenges, only to fall short,” Schumer told reporters.