Democrats suddenly feel like they have a robust agenda for moving into the fall midterms.
The surprise climate, care and tax deal that Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., this week with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., has given Democrats some ammunition to fight what may be their biggest political weakness this election year: soaring prices.
“If you want to look at the big MO — the momentum — it’s with us now and we need that,” Rep. Cheri Bustos, House Democrat’s campaign head last cycle, told NBC News. “We needed a boost, and just from a mental perspective, we need to feel like we’re going to get some wins. I think we were in the pit.”
No one is saying that Manchin’s “Inflation Reduction Act” is the panacea to solve all the Democrats’ woes in the election year. Biden’s poll numbers are appalling, and Democrats have a wafer-thin majority in the 50-50 Senate. House Democrats have only a five-seat majority, and history shows that the party occupying the White House typically loses dozens of seats during a president’s first interim term. Campaign forecasters still believe Republicans prefer to flip the House.
But Democrats believe that with a stronger track record, some targeted incumbents will be able to hold on, preventing Republicans from making 2022 a big election year.
The package is going to “change people’s lives. There are a lot of really important pieces, elements of this legislation that will matter to the people I represent,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking reelection this year.
Spanberger noted that the bill calls for climate investments in conservation and agricultural practices that will help producers in her rural suburb between Washington and Richmond.
“I don’t see a world where I’m going to say no to these things,” she said.
In addition to $369 billion in energy and climate financing, the Manchin-Schumer deal includes provisions to ease the strain on the wallet.
It would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of certain drugs with the pharmaceutical industry, an idea shared by 83% of Americans in a questionnaire last fall by the impartial Kaiser Family Foundation. It would also limit annual out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare to $2,000.
“Finally, we’re about to get that done. That will drastically cut costs for the average American who has to pay exorbitant prices for prescription drugs,” Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., a top GOP target in a swinging district in Orange County, told NBC News.
And the deal would extend funding for the Affordable Care Act by three years, preventing premium hikes this fall for millions of Americans who many Democrats were afraid of.
“That ability to get that three-year extension of lower ACA grants, that’s also going to make a huge difference in people’s lives,” Levin said.
Democratic strategists have argued that tackling the cost of prescription drugs would be a major boost to the party if they pass the bill, saying it would contrast with the GOP among voters currently disenchanted with the fact that neither side do anything about the matter.
“Reducing prescription drug prices remains the Democrats’ most credible response to inflation. This is a wildly popular policy,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said. “This is a very powerful move and a very powerful problem.”
Lake said many voters “think politicians from both parties have been talking about it for decades” and that it’s not being done because they believe “both parties are being bought by special interests.”
She added: “This government has done a lot, but people don’t know. And they think it’s old or past tense. So this is a current achievement in very important areas.”
However, Republicans are enjoying the fight over what they call a huge tax and spending package. At a time of record inflation, they argue that more government spending and higher corporate taxes will only push the country into recession.
‘I go for it. I’m going to pound the other side,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., whose district went for Joe Biden in 2020. “Higher taxes are not a strong platform.”
“Our companies invest because of the [Trump] tax reform,” he said. “If we introduce this minimum tax, investment in our own country will be undermined, resulting in fewer construction jobs. It’s bad economy.”
The package would generate new revenues through a 15% corporate tax, but no new taxes for individuals.
Schumer has told regular members he wants to pass on the full package next week. Because the Democrats are passing the bill through the Senate reconciliation process, they need all of their 50 members, plus Vice President Kamala Harris, to pass it. If that happens, the House would then return from its summer recess and take it up the week of August 8, giving Democrats about three months to campaign.
“I think it’s going to be important for our voters to understand that we’re fighting to cut their costs — that’s exactly what this is about — and a big investment in climate change,” said veteran Democratic Senator Patty Murray, who usually reliably represents the blue state. Washington, but is being targeted by Republicans trying to expand the Senate map this cycle.
sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., dismissed questions about whether the legislation would affect his 2022 outlook, but said the reconciliation package “is important for the people of Arizona.”
“As I’ve traveled across the state and talked to seniors, the thing that always comes up is the prohibitive cost of some prescription drugs,” Kelly, a top target of the GOP, said in an interview. “And I have seniors who have to decide whether they can go grocery shopping or fill their prescription – or they’re cutting pills in half, or they can’t pay their electric bills. So this is significant.”
It’s not just the sweeping reconciliation package that Democrats feel good about. Congress this week passed a two-pronged package to: stimulate the production of computer chips in the US to strengthen national security and compete with China. Earlier this summer, lawmakers also passed a landmark package to tackling gun violence after a spate of mass shootings across the country.
And Democrats also said they are finally getting word on what projects in their home state are being funded by the… $550 Billion Infrastructure Package signed into law last year. That means press conferences and cutting ribbons.
On top of those legislative victories, Democrats say they are also closely monitoring the gaping chasm between the two parties when it comes to small donations. Small dollar fundraising to the GOP has stalled this summer as similar donations to Democrats continue to grow, perhaps due to things like the Supreme Court ruling quashing Roe v. Wade and the ongoing Jan. 6 investigation.
“We’re still dealing with the same headwinds we’ve had, but it’s good to be able to point to even more successes,” said D-Mich. Representative Dan Kildee, a GOP target who announced the deal’s electric deal. promotes car and solar investments. “The infrastructure bill is high, but [the climate and energy bill] is a very important part of our agenda.
“We have to land the plane,” he added. “In the field of solar energy – these are jobs for my people.”