In one of the goals Democrats have been chasing for decades, the legislation for the first time would give Medicare the ability to negotiate the cost of a limited basket of prescription drugs, thereby lowering costs. By extending the Affordable Care Act benefits, it could provide health care coverage to countless people. And by spending nearly $370 billion to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change, it cuts most of the way to reach Biden’s ambitious plans to create a clean energy economy. The bill could also help revive US global leadership in the quest to save the planet by urging other countries to do the same.
This victory was all the more significant because it came against stiff Republican opposition in the 50-50 Senate, where the Democrats had no room for error. Democrats spent months negotiating with themselves, as moderate senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona wrested concessions that the progressives had no choice but to accept to salvage the bill. Senator Coal Manchin reinstated that measure after reversing his opposition late last month and agreeing to a clean energy push in exchange for concessions on fossil fuels.
All major new laws are judged in multiple ways — on their impact on the lives of Americans, on how the political environment has changed and how they appear retroactively, many years down the road, in the historical ledger. So even if Democrats’ achievement isn’t rewarded at the ballot box anytime soon, it may not go unnoticed in the long run.
How will voters and history judge the big Democratic victory
If, as expected, this bill passes along partisan lines in the House this week, its real-world impact will be measured by whether it lives up to Democrats’ claims that it will cut carbon emissions at a time when the deadly effects of climate change — — seen in floods. Severe droughts, wildfires – they’re more visible than ever.
The party and the White House also say the bill could have a massive human impact by helping elderly Americans struggling to pay for some vital drugs and bring about real improvements in the quality of life for millions.
And in extending Obamacare subsidies, this measure would lock up and prolong one of the greatest achievements of democratic governance in the twenty-first century.
Then there are the electoral echoes of passing a bill that, like most legislation, will take months and years to be fully implemented, and thus may lack immediate transformative political effects.
It is unclear whether this push, which will enshrine a large part of Biden’s agenda, will salvage the president’s rapidly dwindling political fortunes. His approval rating, which has fallen below 40%, threatens to pull the Democrats out and shatter their grip on power in Washington in November. Democrats have faced a political firestorm for most of this year, as a pandemic-ravaged country grapples with soaring gas and groceries prices.
This legislative feat may at least give them a chance to reconnect with their constituents, some of whom have given the president poor marks, according to recent polls. Democrats could argue that they have made the most attractive investment in combating climate change in history, an important consideration for generations — especially young voters, who will live with a warming planet.
“This is an absolute historic investment in climate change,” White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy told CNN’s Pamela Brown Sunday, noting the action’s impact on promoting clean energy, increasing jobs and saving consumers money.
Meanwhile, to lure older voters to the polls, Democrats can confirm drug price cuts now that Medicare has some bargaining power.
Biden’s fortunes appear to have shifted in recent weeks after being cornered for much of the past year as crisis after crisis, at home and abroad, collided with the White House and thwarted his ambitious plans. Friday’s bumper jobs report helped allay fears that the economy is about to head into recession. The president oversaw the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, and went so far as to repair his reputation as a shrewd commander-in-chief, tarnished by the chaotic end of the American war in the country.
However, history suggests that the party of first-term presidents–particularly those with less than 50% approval ratings–tends to take a heavy hit in the midterm elections.
Republicans feel open. They describe the Senate’s action as another massive spending bill that would exacerbate already high inflation. Economists are divided over Democrats’ claims that the bill will lower the cost of living. But if day-to-day costs continue to rise, it may not matter politically what the truth is — a harmful impression that Biden is once again spilling oil on the flames of inflation with a huge spending bill could take root.
Senate Minority Mitch McConnell tried to immediately hammer out his party’s midterm message, accusing Democrats of introducing “giant job-killing tax increases” and “the war on American fossil fuels” at a time of soaring energy prices.
“(Democrats)’ response to the hyperinflation they created is a bill that experts say will never meaningfully lower inflation,” said the Kentucky Republican. “The American people are clear about their priorities. Environmental regulation is a 3% issue. Americans want solutions to inflation, crime, and borders.”
A strong legacy even if not translated in November
Biden was quick to jump on the Senate vote on Sunday as a sign of the momentum for his presidency.
“Democratic senators have stood by American families on special interests, and voted to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and daily energy costs and reduce deficits, while making the wealthiest companies finally pay their fair share,” the president said. How Democrats, who have struggled to effectively market his victories as president, will sell the bill to voters.
The passage of the Health Care and Climate Change Act in the Senate presents Biden with a domestic legacy comparable to any modern Democratic president. This adds to Biden’s past successes in Congress, including a bipartisan infrastructure deal that evaded his most recent predecessors, the first major federal gun safety legislation passed in decades and a pandemic rescue plan early in his presidency that the White House said raised millions of children. from poverty.
Those accomplishments may not move the political needle for Biden, especially if voters have already made up their mind about his presidency, with polls showing that most Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction. It also appears that the president’s recent successes are unlikely to quell the drumming debate over whether he should run for re-election in 2024, when he is in his 80s. The question of age will not go away for Biden.
But even if the president has not received significant short-term support for his winning streak and seen his poll numbers soar, the past few weeks have been vital in shifting narratives about his presidency. Most administrations are ultimately remembered for a handful of accomplishments that created a kind of narrative shorthand to sum up the president’s place in history.
If the global climate campaign succeeds in mitigating the most catastrophic impacts on the planet in the coming decades, Biden — who has done more than anyone else in the presidency to respond to the threat — will be remembered by the world for taking action. The same will happen if a new era of electric vehicles is enshrined through energy legislation and the United States begins to turn its back on the internal combustion engine – a cornerstone of US freedom of movement and prosperity for decades.
Biden will also likely get credit from future historians for his role in building on the Obama administration’s progress in expanding access to health care. The Inflation Control Act falls short of early hopes of transforming home health care, increasing education funding and offering dental and vision plans within Medicare. These are some of the reasons Senator Bernie Sanders, of the independent state of Vermont, has been so critical of a bill he later voted on despite his reservations.
“This reconciliation bill does not go far enough in addressing the problems facing struggling working families. But it is a step forward and I am happy to support it,” Sanders said in a statement.
But political success in the United States, on issues from civil rights to social welfare, has always come in increments, with one presidency building on the gains of another. Given the fierce and widening political divisions of contemporary Americans, this has been more so in recent years.
So Democrats, who may lose their majority in November, may at least be able to console themselves by knowing they haven’t squandered their lease of power as seemed likely for months.