WASHINGTON — Sen. Chuck Schumer was huddled in his Capitol office Thursday evening awaiting a climate meeting with Kyrsten Sinema, a critical resistance to his painstakingly negotiated climate change, tax and health care deal, when loud booms and flashes of a mighty storm shook Washington. , setting the lights flashing.
Mr. Schumer and his aides, so close to a signature legislative achievement to end a string of surprise victories, looked at each other uneasily and wondered if it was a bad omen. A 50-50 Senate, a pandemic that kept Democrats constantly guessing who would be available to vote, and the sheer difficulty of running the nearly unmanageable chamber had left them superstitious.
“I’ve been a worrier all my life, but a happy worrier,” said Mr. Schumer, Democrat of New York and Majority Leader.
It was a mind-blowing change of fortune. Just weeks earlier, Mr Schumer, the Democratic agenda and the party’s chances of retaining its outright majority in the Senate looked in dire shape as last-ditch negotiations on sweeping legislation appeared to be collapsing -definitely under the weight of Senator Joe’s resistance. Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.
Instead, Democrats not only got their biggest prize — party-line climate and tax legislation — but also ended an extraordinarily productive run for a Congress best known for its paralysis. It included passage of the first bipartisan gun safety legislation in a generation, a major microchip production and scientific research bill to strengthen America’s competitiveness with China, and a major health care measure for veterans.
The streak of success was all the sweeter for Democrats because it came with the political benefit of Republicans making a bad move by changing positions and temporarily blocking the bill to help sick veterans, in what appeared to be a tantrum over the sudden resurrection. of the climate agreement.
“We’ve had an extraordinary six weeks,” said Mr. Schumer in an interview, calling the measure on climate, health and taxes “the most comprehensive piece of legislation to affect the American people in decades.”
He was far from certain that he could achieve this result. Mr. Schumer, who unlike his predecessors is not known as a master tactician or a gifted lawmaker, has struggled to deliver for long periods, needing every vote of an ideologically mixed Democratic membership. Even his allies wondered whether he was too driven by the need to be liked or by his own personal political considerations to distance himself from a potential primary challenger on his left to be capable of the kind of cruelty that would need
Mr. Schumer said the main requirement had been stamina, not bare knuckles.
“This is the most difficult job I’ve ever had, with a 50-50 Senate, a big agenda and intransigent Republicans,” Mr. Schumer. He cited a persistence instilled in him by his father, who ran an extermination company and died last year, as a motivating factor. “Go on, go on. Look at all the pitfalls we’ve come up with to do it.”
What’s in the Democrats’ climate and tax bill
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Automobile industry. Currently, taxpayers can get up to $7,500 in tax credits to buy an electric vehicle, but there is a limit to how many cars from each manufacturer are eligible. The new bill would eliminate that cap and extend the tax deduction through 2032; used cars would also qualify for a credit of up to $4,000.
Energy industry The bill would provide billions of dollars in rebates for Americans who buy electric and energy-efficient appliances, as well as tax breaks for companies that build new, zero-emission electricity sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels. The package also sets aside $60 billion to encourage clean energy manufacturing in the United States. The bill also requires companies to pay a financial penalty per metric ton for methane emissions that exceed federal limits starting in 2024.
Low-income communities. The bill would invest more than $60 billion to support low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. This includes grants for technology and zero-emission vehicles, as well as money to mitigate the negative effects of roads, bus depots and other transport facilities.
Fossil fuel industry. The bill would require the federal government to auction off more public land and water for oil drilling and expand tax credits for coal and gas-burning plants that rely on carbon capture technology. Those provisions are among those added to win the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia.
West Virginia. The bill would also bring major benefits to the state of Mr. Manchin, the nation’s second largest coal producer, making permanent a federal trust fund to support miners with black lung disease and offering new incentives for companies to build wind and solar farms in areas where coal mines or coal plants have recently closed
The swing on Capitol Hill was palpable as Democrats allowed themselves to hope that their legislative victories, along with a national fight against abortion that they saw as tilting the political landscape in their favor, would keep them in control of the Senate . And for once, they thought they had gotten the better of Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, who has a history of successfully confusing Democrats.
“The mood is exuberant, expectant and really ecstatic about the progress we’ve made over the last few weeks,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut.
Mr. Schumer achieved victories without deep involvement from the White House. President Biden, who had campaigned for the presidency citing his deep experience cutting bipartisan deals in the Senate, ceded much of the responsibility for hammering out the details. The final negotiations with Mr. Manchin proceeded one by one in almost total secrecy.
Republicans licked their wounds as they watched Democrats led by Schumer pass legislation that the GOP was unable to stop under special budget rules. They were not sold on the idea that Democrats had dug themselves out of a political hole with a bill they called the Inflation Reduction Act, given that Mr. Biden’s popularity is still falling and the cost of goods consumption has increased.
“The highest inflation in 40 years, 9.1 percent, families are suffering, they can’t afford a full tank of gas,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. “The end of the month just came, and they ran out of money before the month was over.”
But Democrats pointed to approval of long-sought Medicare authority to negotiate lower drug prices as something that would appeal to voters, along with a general sense that Democrats were finally getting things done on Capitol Hill. They relished the prospect of reminding voters that Republicans had voted against the drug pricing measure and forced Democrats to abandon a proposal that would have capped the monthly cost of insulin at $35 for private insurers.
They also pointed to the climate change provisions as a big leap forward, though not as far-reaching as Democrats had initially hoped before Manchin forced the party to scale back its goals.
“It’s a landmark climate bill and it wasn’t on the scoreboard a month ago,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a leading climate activist. “Senator Schumer, working with Manchin, has been able to get the key climate provisions that we need out. It’s not all that we wanted, but it was what we needed to start this effort to lead the rest of the world.”
Democrats also got help from Republicans. Not only did the failure of the veterans bill play into their hands, but Democrats said a threat by Mr. McConnell to block the microchip bill if Democrats proceeded with the climate and tax bill backfired, prompting Mr. Manchin looking for a compromise.
“Anytime you threaten a bill that you support because you don’t get something else done, you’re in a bad place,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland. “It just looks wrong. It was so grossly political.”
While he was being hit from the left, Mr. McConnell also came under fire from the right for being too accommodating to Democrats on bills like the microchip measure and the gun measure. But Mr. McConnell also has his eye on the midterms, and he knows Republicans need suburban voters who can be turned off by knee-jerk obstructionism.
“Just because you have a closely divided government doesn’t mean you don’t do anything,” McConnell told Fox News last week. “Just because there’s a Democrat in the White House, I don’t think that means Republicans shouldn’t do anything that’s good for the country in the meantime.”
That approach has bolstered Democrats at a crucial time, entering the heart of the campaign season.
“There is a clear shift in momentum,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan and head of the party’s Senate campaign arm. “I feel like we’re in a really good place. Here we are going into August, coming up to Labor Day, and you look at where the numbers are, and our candidates are doing very well in a difficult environment.”
After the recess, Mr. Schumer and his fellow Democrats intend to try to press for his success, scheduling politically charged votes on same-sex marriage, oil prices and other issues they believe can show their strengths and put the Republicans in place.
But even though he was about to score a major hit, Mr. Schumer wasn’t taking any chances. As the leader of an environmental advocacy group hailed him as a hero after an event outside the Capitol on Thursday, Mr. Schumer warned him: “Not yet, not yet.”
Mr. Schumer said the result underscored a key difference between him and Mr. McConnell, known more for his gridlock and slaughter legislation than for passing bills.
“He brags about the cemetery,” said Mr. Schumer. “I would like to be proud of achievements, of doing things, not of not doing things.”