President Joe Biden on Thursday urged congressional Democrats to quickly pass the surprise agreement on a health care and energy spending bill that has breathed new life into his legislative agenda.
“This bill is far from perfect. It’s a compromise. But it’s often how progress is made, by compromises. The fact is that my message to Congress is this: This is the strongest bill you can pass to lower inflation, cut the deficit, reduce health care costs, tackle the climate crises and promote energy security – all the time while reducing the burdens facing working-class and middle-class families,” Biden said during a speech at the White House the day after the deal was announced.
“So, pass it. Pass it for the American people. Pass it for America.”
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the agreement on Wednesday – a compromise that includes elements of the President’s Build Back Better initiative, which had been aimed at transforming the country’s social safety net, combating climate change and addressing child and health care costs.
The President on Thursday detailed some of the bill’s provisions, highlighting tax credits for Americans’ energy-efficient appliances and electric vehicles, as well as creating jobs in the manufacturing, clean energy, solar power and clean hydrogen industries.
“Simply put: The bill will lower health care costs for millions of Americans and it will be the most important investment we’ve ever made in our energy security and developing cost savings and job-creating clean energy solutions for the future,” Biden said.
He also touted an agreement that will make corporations “pay their fair share” of taxes.
The agreement, called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, contains a number of Democrats’ goals. Many details have still not been disclosed, but the measure would invest $369 billion into energy and climate change programs, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, according to a one-page fact sheet. For the first time, Medicare would be empowered to negotiate the prices of certain medications, and it would cap out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 for those enrolled in Medicare drug plans. It would also extend expiring enhanced subsidies for Affordable Care Act coverage for three years.
The agreement came after more than a year of roller-coaster negotiations, marking a major reversal for Manchin, who had previously refused to get on board with the President’s plan. The bill stands a serious chance of becoming law as soon as August – assuming Democrats can pass the bill in the House and that it passes muster with the Senate parliamentarian to allow it to be approved along straight party lines in the budget process.
Biden on Thursday acknowledged that there are many priorities of his that are not in the bill, saying, “I know the compromise on the inflation bill doesn’t include everything I’ve been pushing for since I’ve got into office.”
But, he said, it represented a major step.
“I know it can … sometimes seem like nothing gets done in Washington. … The work of the government can be slow and frustrating and sometimes even infuriating,” Biden said. “Then the hard work of hours and days and months for people who refuse to give up pays off. History is made. Lives are changed. With this legislation, we’re facing up to some of our biggest problems and we’re taking a giant step forward as a nation.”
The President also vowed to continue fighting for provisions that did not make it into the new plan, including lowering the costs of child care, elder care, preschool, housing, college and health care.
On a local radio show earlier Thursday, Manchin argued that the bill should be well-received by both parties, saying it doesn’t “truly” raise taxes and doesn’t add to inflation, while creating a good energy policy.
“This is a bill for the country,” Manchin said. “It’s not a bill for Democrats. And it’s not a bill that Republicans should be concerned about.”
Biden spoke with Manchin and Schumer Wednesday afternoon – his first call with Manchin since December. The President thanked both lawmakers for coming to an agreement.
But in the radio interview, Manchin said he and his staff worked with Schumer and his team to craft the legislation, saying Biden was “not involved.”
“It was me and my staff,” Manchin told host Hoppy Kercheval. “And then we worked with Schumer’s staff. My staff was driving it. We wrote the bill. Schumer’s staff would look at it and we would negotiate, and we worked that through them.”
Hurdles to passing bill into law remain
There are factors complicating quick passage of the bill – Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin announced Thursday that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and would be isolating. To pass the bill, Democrats would need all 50 of their senators to be present and vote in favor of the bill with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, as all Republicans are expected to vote against the deal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed the package, calling it “nonsense and goodies for rich coastal elites.”
“This is the nonsense that Democrats are focused on,” McConnell said. “Not helping you put gas in your car, not helping you afford your groceries. They want to use the middle-class economic crisis they themselves created as an excuse to raise your taxes and ram through their green, new deal nonsense.”
He added: “Our colleagues across the aisle have already completely lost America’s trust on the economy before this reckless taxing and spending spree. Apparently, they now wanna see how much further they can fall.”
Further complicating matters is Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a key moderate, who has not yet weighed in on the bill. She has previously raised concerns about taxes on carried interest, which would raise $14 billion under the deal. Sinema was not part of negotiations for the current package.
Manchin told reporters on Thursday that he hopes the $739 billion bill will advance in the Senate before the chamber leaves for August recess but acknowledged that he has not talked to Sinema.
“I have not spoken to her about this,” said Manchin. “I would hope that she would be receptive.” He added that he is “not prepared” to lose the provision that would raise revenue by closing the carried interest loophole.
In a closed-door meeting Thursday, Schumer privately told Democrats that now is the time to get a bill to deal with climate change and allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.
“We now have the opportunity to get those two hugely important priorities passed before the August recess,” he said, according to a Democrat inside the room.
“It will require us to stick together and work long days and nights for the next 10 days. We will need to be disciplined in our messaging and focus. It will be hard. But I believe we can get … this … done.”
News of the deal stunned Republicans on Wednesday. The agreement was announced shortly after the Senate passed a bill meant to boost US semiconductor production, legislation McConnell had threatened to block if Democrats tried to pass a climate and economic package.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune, when asked if the GOP got played by letting the so-called CHIPS bill go through before the Democrats’ economic deal was cut, told CNN: “I think everyone got surprised certainly by representations that had been made by Democrats about this deal, and I think there was certain amount of people being blindsided – not only on our side but on the Democrats’ side.”
Asked if McConnell played this properly, he said: “You’ll have to chat with him about that.”
The bill – the full text of which has not been publicly released – would also need to go through the House as well, where Democrats have a more substantial, but still thin, majority.
Progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, called the Manchin-Schumer deal a “major step forward” and a “massive accomplishment,” expressing confidence in the deal on CNN’s “New Day.”
“Welcome in, Joe Manchin. Delighted to work with you to get this done,” she said.
But there are still landmines in the House, including whether to revise the caps on state and local tax deductions that have been demanded by a handful of mostly northeastern Democrats.
This story has been updated with additional developments.