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Senate delivers a major boost to Biden's agenda

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference after passage of the Inflation Reduction Act at the U.S. Capitol on Sunday.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference after passage of the Inflation Reduction Act at the U.S. Capitol on Sunday.

Congress is on the verge of passing President Biden's signature legislative achievement after Senate Democrats approved a major climate, health care and tax bill on Sunday.

"It's been a long, tough and winding road but at last, at last, we have arrived," Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before Sunday's vote, which came after more than 24 hours of debate and votes on amendments to the Inflation Reduction Act. The measure passed after Vice President Harris cast a tie-breaking vote.

The vote is a boost for the president, who ended his isolation at the White House Sundayafter testing negative a second time for COVID. Although his approval ratings are still underwater, Biden has witnessed an unusual stretch of good news: from blockbuster jobs numbersto bipartisan legislation passing Congress and the killing of a terrorist leader. Democrats, meanwhile, have something to campaign on with less than three months left for the midterms, where they are expected to lose ground.

In a statement issued after the Senate vote on the roughly $700 billion package, Biden said "doing the important thing almost always" requires compromises. Indeed, Democrats were initially looking at a $3.5 trillion package.

"I ran for President promising to make government work for working families again, and that is what this bill does – period," Biden said. He also urged the House to pass the bill as soon as possible so he can sign it into law.

That could happen as early as Friday when the House is scheduled to return from its recess.

"The House will return and move swiftly to send this bill to the President's desk — proudly building a healthier, cleaner, fairer future for all Americans," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

With less than three months from the midterms, Democrats are eager to move beyond their internal splits and tout the accomplishments they have been able to get through Congress in the past few months: bipartisan gun reform, a veterans health care bill and a legislation boosting semiconductor chip production in the U.S.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who had appeared skeptical of the measure, said in a statement Sunday he'll be voting for it.

"This bill passes my key test that I've pushed for since day one: it does not raise taxes on individuals, families, or small businesses in my District," he said.

What's in the bill

The measure includes several significant policy changes. It includes roughly $370 billion for climate change policies, including tax credits for electric vehicles and money for renewable energy programs. Democrats say these investments will cut greenhouse emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

"Very few pieces of legislation will ever make the kind of impact that this climate bill will have, not just for the United States, but for the entire world," Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said after the measure passed on the Senate floor.

Additionally, the bill allows Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs, and caps the out-of-pocket costs people on Medicare pay to $2,000 per year, starting in 2025. The powerful pharmaceutical industry lobby has opposed this for years.

The bill also extends for three more years the subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, that were part of a pandemic relief bill.

Tax changes include a 15% minimum corporate minimum tax and an excise tax on stock buybacks that will bring in roughly $300 billion in new revenue to pay down the deficit.

Republican response

Senate Republicans were united in their opposition to the package.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in a statement, excoriated the bill, saying it would make the deficit worse.

"Democrats have proven over and over they simply do not care about middle-class families' priorities," he said in a statement. "They have spent 18 months proving that. They just spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prove it again."

Democrats, however, argue that the bill will not exacerbate inflation and will actually lower it, pointing to other studies.

A boost for Biden

News of the bill's passage caps a string of good news for the president. The week began with Biden announcing the killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Senate then passed a bipartisan measure to provide health care and benefits for millions of veteransinjured by exposure to toxins, from Agent Orange in Vietnam to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both came a week after the Senate passed a major industrial billaimed at investing billions in American-made technology like semiconductors.

As recently as last month, the Democrats' spending package appeared dead after more than a year of internal squabbles between moderates and progressives about the size and scope of the proposal.

Schumer and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin secretly renewed talks about 10 days ago and put together the framework. Most Democrats were skeptical after Manchin pulled back from talks citing inflation concerns just days before this deal was announced. Democrats also needed the vote of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who forced leaders to remove a provision targeting how hedge funds and private equity funds are taxed.

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NPR Washington Desk