Congress OKs Dems' Climate, Health Bill08/13 09:17
A divided Congress gave final approval Friday to Democrats' flagship climate
and health care bill, handing President Joe Biden a back-from-the-dead triumph
on coveted priorities that the party hopes will bolster their prospects for
keeping their House and Senate majorities in November's elections.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Congress gave final approval Friday to
Democrats' flagship climate and health care bill, handing President Joe Biden a
back-from-the-dead triumph on coveted priorities that the party hopes will
bolster their prospects for keeping their House and Senate majorities in
The House used a party-line 220-207 vote to pass the legislation, prompting
hugs among Democrats on the House floor and cheers by White House staff
watching on television. "Today, the American people won. Special interests
lost," tweeted the vacationing Biden, who was shown beaming in a White House
photo as he watched the vote on TV from Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He said
he would sign the legislation next week.
The measure is but a shadow of the larger, more ambitious plan to
supercharge environment and social programs that Biden and his party unveiled
early last year. Even so, Democrats happily declared victory on top-tier goals
like providing Congress' largest ever investment in curbing carbon emissions,
reining in pharmaceutical costs and taxing large companies, hoping to show they
can wring accomplishments from a routinely gridlocked Washington that often
"Today is a day of celebration, a day we take another giant step in our
momentous agenda," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who minutes later
announced the final vote as she presided over the chamber. She said the measure
"meets the moment, ensuring that our families thrive and that our planet
Republicans solidly opposed the legislation, calling it a cornucopia of
wasteful liberal daydreams that would raise taxes and families' living costs.
They did the same Sunday but Senate Democrats banded together and used Vice
President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote t o power the measure through that
"Democrats, more than any other majority in history, are addicted to
spending other people's money, regardless of what we as a country can afford,"
said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "I can almost see glee in
Biden's initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal also envisioned free
prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and
eased immigration restrictions. That crashed after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin,
D-W.Va., said it was too costly, using the leverage every Democrat has in the
Still, the final legislation remained substantive. Its pillar is about $375
billion over 10 years to encourage industry and consumers to shift from
carbon-emitting to cleaner forms of energy. That includes $4 billion to cope
with the West's catastrophic drought.
Spending, tax credits and loans would bolster technology like solar panels,
consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment
for coal- and gas-powered power plants and air pollution controls for farms,
ports and low-income communities.
Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay premiums over the next
three years for privately bought health insurance. Medicare would gain the
power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for only 10
drugs. Medicare beneficiaries' out-of-pocket prescription costs would be
limited to $2,000 starting in 2025, and beginning next year would pay no more
than $35 monthly for insulin, the costly diabetes drug.
The bill would raise around $740 billion in revenue over the decade, over a
third from government savings from lower drug prices. More would flow from
higher taxes on some $1 billion corporations, levies on companies that
repurchase their own stock and stronger IRS tax collections. About $300 billion
would remain to defray budget deficits, a sliver of the period's projected $16
Against the backdrop of GOP attacks on the FBI for its court-empowered
search of former President Donald Trump's Florida estate for sensitive
documents, Republicans repeatedly savaged the bill's boost to the IRS budget.
That's aimed at collecting an estimated $120 billion in unpaid taxes over the
coming decade, and Republicans have misleadingly claimed that the IRS will hire
87,000 agents to target average families.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., said Democrats would also "weaponize" the IRS with
agents, "many of whom will be trained in the use of deadly force, to go after
any American citizen." Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Thursday on "Fox and
Friends" if there would be an IRS "strike force that goes in with AK-15s
already loaded, ready to shoot some small business person."
Few IRS personnel are armed, and Democrats say the bill's $80 billion,
10-year budget increase would be to replace waves of retirees, not just agents,
and modernize equipment. They have said typical families and small businesses
would not be targeted, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen directing the IRS
this week to not "increase the share of small business or households below the
$400,000 threshold" that would be audited.
Republicans say the legislation's new business taxes will increase prices,
worsening the nation's bout with its worst inflation since 1981. Though
Democrats have labeled the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, nonpartisan
analysts say it will have a barely perceptible impact on prices.
The GOP also says the bill would raise taxes on lower- and middle-income
families. An analysis by Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation,
which didn't include the bill's tax breaks for health care and energy,
estimated that the corporate tax boosts would marginally affect those taxpayers
but indirectly, partly due to lower stock prices and wages.
"House Democrats ensured voters will fire them this fall," said spokeswoman
Torunn Sinclair of the House GOP campaign committee. In an email, she listed
dozens of Democrats in competitive reelections who will face Republican attacks
for raising taxes and empowering the IRS "to target their constituents."
Democratic-leaning interest groups had their own warnings. "We'll ensure
that every Republican who voted against this bill is held accountable for
prioritizing polluters and corporate special interests over the health and well
being of their constituents," said Tiernan Sittenfeld, a top official of the
League of Conservation Voters.
The bill caps three months in which Congress has approved legislation on
veterans' benefits, the semiconductor industry, gun checks for young buyers and
Ukraine's invasion by Russia and adding Sweden and Finland to NATO. All passed
with bipartisan support, suggesting Republicans also want to display their
It's unclear whether voters will reward Democrats for the legislation after
months of painfully high inflation dominating voters' attention, Biden's
dangerously low popularity ratings and a steady history of midterm elections
that batter the party holding the White House.
Biden called his $3.5 trillion plan Build Back Better. Besides social and
environment initiatives, it proposed rolling back Trump-era tax breaks for the
rich and corporations and $555 billion for climate efforts, well above the
money in Friday's legislation.
With Manchin opposing those amounts, it was sliced to a roughly $2 trillion
measure that Democrats moved through the House in November. He unexpectedly
sank that bill too, earning scorn from exasperated fellow Democrats from
Capitol Hill and the White House.
Last gasp talks between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer,
D-N.Y., seemed fruitless until the two unexpectedly announced agreement last
month on the new package.
Manchin won concessions for the fossil fuel industries he champions,
including procedures for more oil drilling on federal lands. So did Centrist
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who ended up eliminating planned higher taxes on
hedge fund managers and helping win the drought funds.