Connecticut’s Democratic senators came home Monday to celebrate the policy and political implications of passing a $370 billion bill that breaks stubborn deadlocks on climate change, tax reform and prescription drug prices, all under the banner of an “Inflation Reduction Act.”
The shuffling Senate, the evenly divided body where hundreds of House bills have gone to die since Democrats took control of the White House and Congress at the start of 2021, gave President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats a bill that instantly put Democrats on offense in midterm elections.
“So the word ‘historic’ really is justified here. I know it’s used with abandon in politics, but this measure is truly historic,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “It is the biggest single investment in fighting climate change in United States history. It is the most important step to cut medicine costs in American history. It is the biggest step forward in tax fairness in recent history.”
Two months ago, the 76-year-old Blumenthal was asked whether his longstanding advocacy of prescription-drug reforms that never came to fruition was becoming a liability in his campaign for a third term. On Monday, he enjoyed listening to Sen. Chris Murphy talk about the change in fortune over the summer.
“We have just wrapped up what will go down as the most productive summer in the United States Congress in generations: bipartisan gun safety legislation, bipartisan veterans legislation, bipartisan legislation restarting the domestic microchip industry,” Murphy said. “And yesterday, groundbreaking legislation that finally puts this country on firmer footing when it comes to our commitment to combating climate change and delivers life-saving cost savings for seniors all over the country.”
Blumenthal and Murphy talked to reporters in Hartford.
The bill passed Sunday on a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris, who presides over the Senate. The House is expected to take up the measure by week’s end.
One of the provisions lifts the legal prohibition on Medicare from using its considerable purchasing power to negotiate drug prices, as the Pentagon, the Veterans Administration and private health insurers currently do. It also would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare recipients at $2,000 annually and extend premium subsidies for Obamacare.
Nora Duncan, the state director of AARP, said the bill was a win for consumers decades in the making.
“For 20 years, it’s been illegal for Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs. And that is finally over,” Duncan said. “We can negotiate on behalf of consumers instead of not negotiating for the benefit of Big Pharma.”
The bill would impose substantial business-tax increases that were derided over the weekend by Republicans and defended Monday by Murphy and Blumenthal as overdue efforts at tax fairness.
It would impose a 15% minimum tax on corporations earning at least $1 billion and a 1% tax on corporate stock buybacks that flourished after the tax cuts of 2017.
“If a corporation buys back its stock, like the oil companies making three and four times what they did last year at this time, without any benefit to consumers, they’ve got to pay 1%. And to the biggest income earners in the country, to the wealthiest, the tax cheating will stop,” Blumenthal said. “Or at least we’re going to fight it.”
The bill increases resources to the IRS.
The Democratic senators said they welcome a debate with Republicans over the tax increases. Blumenthal, of course, will have that opportunity over the summer and fall.
“These policies are wildly popular. And the Republican talking points are wildly crazy,” Blumenthal said.
The act’s sections on energy policy will be the nation’s first major law attacking climate change, coming during a blistering summer. By pushing the nation from fossil fuels to renewables, it is projected to reduce greenhouse emissions by 40% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, said Katie Dykes, the state commissioner of energy and environmental protection.
“I just can’t underscore how earth-shaking this legislation is for everyone who’s been working hard and cares deeply about solving the climate crisis,” Dykes said.
Equally earth-shaking to Dykes was that Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W. Va., who ardently protects fossil-fuel jobs, had signed on. A native of West Virginia, Dykes interned for Manchin when he was governor.
Murphy said climate change was only part of the bill that engaged his children.
“Young people in this country are really scared, scared because time is running out,” Murphy said. “If you don’t make different decisions about the pace of pollution in this world, the next generation isn’t going to be able to fix it. And the world cannot make progress if the United States doesn’t lead. Here we are, 25% of the world’s pollution. We are 5% of the world’s population.”
Murphy has long been a student of politics as well as a practitioner. As a leading advocate of gun safety measures, Murphy always has cast the movement’s successes and failures in a larger context. He did so again Monday.
“To me, maybe the most important thing about what happened this summer is that power is really starting to shift in this country,” Murphy said. “For a long time, the gun industry, the oil industry, the drug industry, they had all the power. And they were able to stop progress, stand in the way of legislation that would make our communities safer, clean up our environment or save seniors money. What we saw this summer is a pretty fundamental shift in who has power in Washington.”