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Senate Democrats offer sign of political life

After secret negotiations Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin have unveiled their Inflation Reduction Act.

By Emily Tamkin

Something surprising happened in Washington DC this week: Democratic senators appeared to engage in politics.

The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, and Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia who often finds himself playing spoiler for the Democratic caucus, announced that they had a deal. Once known as the Build Back Better Act — and meant to be a key part of US President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda — the two senators unveiled the Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation would accord $369bn to climate change and energy security programmes. If it passes, it will be an imperfect but significant step toward reducing carbon emissions (and would also have an impact in tax and health policy, for example reforming prescription drug pricing). 

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There are two aspects of this act to note. The first is that Schumer and Manchin negotiated it in secret. When Schumer removed billions in tax increases from the legislation Manchin remained at the negotiating table – a compromise in itself. Reports suggest that Manchin did so not only because of outside pressure, but also polite cajoling from his fellow lawmakers and Democrats. 

The second is that Republicans had vowed that if this legislation went through they would not support the Chips Act, a bill intended to make US industry more competitive in relation to China. That act passed the Senate on Wednesday evening. Shortly thereafter, Manchin and Schumer announced their deal. “They sucked Republican votes up like a Hoover Deluxe and then got their votes [on the Chips Act] and then bam, announced this new tax increase… We look like a bunch of – well, I’m not going to say what we look like,” said Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana. This is to say that the Democrats appeared to put the ends over the means, prioritising policy goals over fair play and bipartisanship. 

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The Inflation Reduction Act hasn’t crossed the finish line just yet. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona and a self-styled maverick of the caucus, has not yet said she’s on board. And it’s not guaranteed that moderate House Democrats will be either.

Still, at time of writing, it appears that Democrats saw threats from both within their own party and the Republicans but were able to beat them. That’s politics. One hopes they enjoyed it enough that they do it more often.

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