As Democrats prepare to cast their final vote on President Biden’s economic agenda, some party lawmakers are steeling themselves for the next fight: trying to persuade voters to let them finish what they started.
The political trade-offs have informed Democrats’ retooled pitch to voters this week, as they fan out across the country fresh off a successful Senate vote. With control of Congress on the line in November’s midterm elections, party lawmakers have tried to strike a political balance, eagerly touting their early victories while signaling they are committed to making another run at the ideas they had to abandon.
“The fact that we can show we’re actually getting something done, that people care about, that doesn’t take difficult explanation,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a recent interview, describing the bill as “one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in decades.”
But Schumer said their work isn’t finished, especially if Democrats “pick up a few more seats” in the midterm elections. Only months ago, the majority leader had tried to move a more sprawling package that aimed to expand Medicare, invest in affordable housing, improve child care, offer free prekindergarten and provide a host of new benefits to low-income Americans. That push ultimately faltered after Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) raised concerns about its price tag and policy scope, though he and Schumer eventually worked out a compromise.
“If we win, we’re going to have to do a reconciliation bill that will take care of a lot of the things that we couldn’t do,” Schumer said, referring to the legislative process that allows his party to override Republican opposition.
For Democrats, the Inflation Reduction Act amounts to a major political achievement in its own right. The bill delivers the largest-ever single burst of federal spending to tackle global warming — roughly $370 billion — with new programs to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and boost clean-energy technologies including electric vehicles.
With it, Democrats also delivered new initiatives to cap and cut drug costs for seniors on Medicare and spare about 13 million low- and middle-income Americans from insurance premium spikes next year. Lawmakers paid for their package — while generating new money for deficit reduction — through proposals that target some billion-dollar corporations and tax cheats.
Democrats forged the measure in the Senate, after months of tumultuous negotiations between Schumer and Manchin, the party’s chief moderate holdout. Talks at one point last month appeared on the verge of full collapse, after Manchin grew concerned over Democrats’ proposed spending as inflation threatened the economy.
But the duo continued to toil, largely out of sight of their party’s members, before brokering a surprise summer deal. After another round of tweaks — this time to satisfy Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), another key moderate — Democrats shepherded the bill through a marathon overnight debate and adopted it Sunday over unanimous Republican opposition.