House Democrats on Friday passed a sweeping healthcare, tax and climate change bill. Now they have to sell it.
The vote was 220 to 207, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans opposing it.
With the midterm elections quickly approaching, congressional Democrats have had a series of legislative victories in recent weeks — expanding NATO, securing healthcare and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, investing nearly $53 billion into the U.S. semiconductor industry and passing bipartisan gun safety legislation.
That momentum has culminated in the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, an offshoot of the many versions of President Biden’s failed Build Back Better Act. The Inflation Reduction Act, which the Senate passed Sunday with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie, now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
With Biden poised to sign the bill into law in the coming days, House Democrats say their focus should now shift to promoting its benefits to Americans. They readily admit they failed to adequately communicate to the American people how previous massive legislation that passed this Congress — including last year’s $1-trillion infrastructure package — would improve their lives.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) said Democrats need an “all-hands-on-deck approach” that gets beyond the media and the Beltway, and directly into communities.
“We need administration officials. We need members of Congress. We need state legislatures. We need 1,000 surrogates flooding every community in this country,” Khanna said in an interview. “We need to do things like that: have people out in their communities, not just their districts but in communities across this country, talking about why this is going to matter.”
Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) pointed to three tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act: one for used electric vehicles, including hybrids, and two for home efficiency for new and existing homeowners.
“A lot of times people don’t recognize the significance of these achievements,” Gomez said. “They don’t know what was in it and they don’t know how they benefit.”
Forty-one percent of Americans are familiar with the Inflation Reduction Act, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week. More than a quarter of respondents, however, said they’d never heard of the legislation, and nearly a third acknowledged having heard of it but not knowing more about it.
The bill will allow Medicare to negotiate some prescription drug prices, cap out-of-pocket drug expenses for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000 per year, and cap drugmakers’ price increases.
On climate, it will reduce emissions by about 40% by 2030, proponents say.
The measure will also impose new taxes on wealthy corporations and their stock buyback programs, and provide funding to beef up the Internal Revenue Service’s taxpayer services and enforcement.
It also includes $4 billion to address the Colorado River water crisis.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) framed the legislation as a “kitchen table issue” at a news conference hours before the vote.
“If you are sitting at your kitchen table and wonder how you’re going to pay the bills — your healthcare bills, your prescription drug bills — this bill’s for you,” Pelosi said.
Rep. Josh Harder (D-Turlock), one of the most vulnerable California Democrats seeking reelection, emphasized the importance of getting savings to Americans as quickly as possible.
“Families in the Central Valley are paying an arm and a leg at the grocery store and the gas pump right now, so our No. 1 priority has to be implementing this bill so they see real savings on their prescription drugs, their healthcare costs and their energy bills,” Harder told The Times.
House GOP leaders mocked the bill as the “Inflation, Recession, and IRS Army Act” in a message sent to all House Republicans’ offices.
In a lengthy floor speech, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) panned the legislation as a “misguided, tone-deaf bill” that will raise taxes and hand out tax credits “like candy, with no accountability.”
Progressives cheered the legislation while acknowledging they would have preferred it had gone further to fight climate change and bolster the nation’s social safety net.
“We are — at the Progressive Caucus — heartbroken to see investments in care, in housing, immigration, workforce and more left on the cutting room floor,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who called it “particularly outrageous” that Republicans had stripped out a provision that would have capped the price of insulin at $35 a month for everyone with private insurance.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) commended the bill for addressing some of his constituents’ most pressing issues.
“This is by far the biggest step the U.S. has ever taken to combat climate change, but I know that this is by no means a ‘mission accomplished’ moment,” he said. “We must get off the fossil fuel roller coaster that has been driving inflation and killing our planet, once and for all.”
In an appearance Friday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer suggested Senate Democrats in battleground states were already reaping the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act’s passage in the upper chamber.
“The way I look at it,” Schumer said, “if we held the election today, there is a damn good chance we’d pick up a few seats.”
Times staff writer Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.