In a goal Democrats have been pursuing for decades, legislation will for the first time give Medicare the power to negotiate the cost of a limited number of prescription drugs, reducing costs. By expanding the Affordable Care Act grants, it could save health care for countless people. And by spending nearly $370 billion to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change, it’s largely about achieving Biden’s ambitious plans to create a clean energy economy. The bill could also help revitalize US global leadership in the quest to save the planet by urging other countries to follow suit.
The victory is all the more remarkable because it was won against the fierce GOP opposition in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats had no room for error. Democrats have been negotiating with themselves for months, while moderate senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema made concessions that progressives had little choice but to accept to save the bill. The senator from the coal state of Manchin has revived the measure after reversing his opposition late last month and agreeing to push for clean energy in return for concessions on fossil fuels.
All major new laws are judged in multiple ways — on their impact on Americans’ lives, on how they change the political environment, and how they appear in the ledger of history in retrospect, many years later. So even if the Democrats’ achievement isn’t soon rewarded at the ballot box, it can’t go unnoticed in the long run.
How voters and history will judge the great Democratic victory
If, as expected, this bill is passed along party lines in the House this week, its real-world impact will be measured in whether it lives up to Democratic claims that it will reduce carbon emissions at a time when the deadly effects of climate change — seen in extreme floods, droughts and wildfires — are becoming increasingly apparent.
The party and the White House also say the bill could have a huge human impact by helping older Americans struggling to afford certain essential drugs and improving real quality of life for millions of people.
And by expanding Obamacare subsidies, this measure would sustain and prolong one of the greatest achievements of Democratic rule in the 21st century.
Then there is the electoral resonance of the passage of a bill that, like most legislation, will take months and years to be fully implemented and thus could have no immediate, transformative political aftereffects.
It’s unclear whether this push, which will anchor an important part of Biden’s agenda, will save the president’s rapidly dwindling political fortune. His approval rating, which has fallen below 40%, threatens to bring Democrats down and destroy their hold on power in Washington in November. Democrats have faced a ferocious political storm for most of this year as a country depleted by the pandemic has faced soaring gas and grocery prices.
This legislative achievement could at least give them a chance to reconnect with their voters, some of whom have given the president poor marks, according to recent polls. Democrats can argue that they have made the most drastic investment in history to fight climate change, an important consideration for generations — and especially for 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.
To get older voters to the polls, Democrats, meanwhile, can focus on drug price cuts now that Medicare will have some bargaining power.
Even Biden’s fortunes seem to have turned in recent weeks, after he was besieged for much of the past year as crisis after crisis, at home and abroad, penetrated his White House and thwarted ambitious plans. A record number of jobs on Friday helped quell fears that the economy is on the brink of a recession. And the president led the assassination of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, somewhat restoring his reputation as a shrewd commander in chief tarnished by the chaotic end of the US war in the country.
Still, history suggests that the party of first-term presidents — especially those with less than 50% approval ratings — tend to win in midterm elections.
And Republicans feel an opening. They label the Senate move as yet another massive spending bill that will exacerbate already rising inflation. Economists are divided over Democratic claims the bill will lower the cost of living. But if daily costs continue to rise, politics may not care what the truth is — a damaging impression could be created that Biden is once again fueling the flames of inflation with a huge spending bill.
Senate minority Mitch McConnell immediately tried to get his party’s message across in the midterm elections, accusing Democrats of introducing “huge job-destroying tax hikes” and a “war on US fossil fuels” at a time of high energy prices.
“The (Democrats’) response to the runaway inflation they’ve created is a bill that experts say won’t reduce inflation in any meaningful way at all,” the Kentucky Republican said. “The American people are clear about their priorities. Environmental regulation is a 3% issue. Americans want solutions to inflation, crime and the border.”
A powerful legacy, even if it doesn’t translate into November
Biden quickly jumped on Sunday’s Senate vote as a sign of momentum for his presidency.
“Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests, voting to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance and everyday energy costs and reduce the deficit, while finally making the richest companies pay their fair share. the president said, hinting at how Democrats, who have struggled to effectively market his victories as president, will sell the bill to voters.
The passing of his health care and climate change bill in the Senate sets Biden for a domestic legacy on a par with any recent Democratic president. This adds to Biden’s past successes in Congress, including a bipartisan infrastructure deal that evaded his two most recent predecessors, the first major federal gun safety legislation passed in decades, and a pandemic rescue plan early in his presidency that White Huis said millions of children were raised. out of poverty.
These achievements may not move the political needle for Biden, especially if voters have already made up their minds about his presidency, as polls show most Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction. It seems unlikely that the president’s recent successes will stifle debate over whether he should be re-elected in 2024, when he is in his 80s. The age issue is not going away for Biden.
But even if the president doesn’t get a substantial boost to his winning streak in the near term and his poll numbers rise significantly, the past few weeks have been vital in shifting narratives about his presidency. Most governments are eventually remembered for a handful of achievements that create a sort of narrative shorthand to encapsulate a president’s place in history.
If global climate action 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 for taking action. The same will be the case as a new era of electric vehicles is anchored by energy legislation and the US begins to turn its back on the internal combustion engine – a cornerstone of American freedom of movement and prosperity for decades.
Biden is also likely to be credited by future historians for his role in building on the Obama administration’s progress in expanding access to health care. The Inflation Reduction Act is failing early hopes to transform home health care, increase funding for education, and provide dental and vision plans under Medicare. Here are a few reasons why Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, was so critical of a bill he later voted for, despite his reservations.
“This reconciliation bill doesn’t go far enough to address the issues facing struggling working families. But it’s a step forward and I was happy to support it,” Sanders said in a statement.
But political success in the United States, from civil rights to social care, has almost always been incremental, with one presidency building on the achievements of another. Given the brutal and widening political divides of modern America, that has become more the case in recent years.
So the Democrats, who could lose their majority in November, can at least take comfort in knowing that they haven’t wasted their contract of power, as it seemed likely for months.