Biden signs sweeping climate and health care bill into law

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In a speech from the State Dining Room, Biden cast the bill as a historic opportunity to combat climate change and improve Americans’ lives. He ticked off a list of provisions he said would accelerate the nation’s clean energy push, lower health costs and bolster the economy.

Biden also showed flashes of defiance, castigating the “critics” he said doubted Democrats’ ability to pass such landmark legislation after repeated setbacks. And he argued the sweeping reforms represented the latest evidence for keeping his party in power come November.

“We didn’t tear down, we built up,” Biden said, noting that no Republicans supported the effort. “That’s the choice we face. We can protect the already powerful or show the courage to build a future where everybody has an even shot.”

The House cleared the massive bill on a party-line vote on Friday. The package passed the Senate less than a week earlier, with only Democratic support and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the vote that broke the 50-50 tie.

Because of the congressional recess, the White House has scheduled another event on Sept. 6 to celebrate the bill’s enactment. But Tuesday’s event offered Democrats an opportunity during an otherwise quiet week to tout an accomplishment more than a year and a half in the making.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose surprise announcement of support in late July clinched the bill’s passage, attended the signing, at one point receiving a standing ovation.

“Joe, I never had a doubt,” Biden said, later giving him the pen he used to sign the package.

Manchin later told reporters he was less sure about Democrats’ ability to pass a major climate bill across months of on-and-off negotiations. But he said concerns about the country’s energy independence kept bringing him back to the table.

“I’ve never seen a more balanced bill that could really lift our country up,” he said.

The package aims to make sweeping changes to major parts of the U.S. economy, investing roughly $300 billion in climate and energy initiatives, limiting prescription drug prices and imposing a new minimum tax on large corporations. The legislation is also projected to reduce the federal deficit, in a move that Democrats pitched as a key element in slowing inflation.

Perhaps just as important for the White House, it represents the capstone on what aides contend has been a historic two years of legislative accomplishments for Biden — especially given the challenges of navigating an evenly divided Senate and amid ongoing economic uncertainty.

Congress has already passed legislation on infrastructure, gun safety, microchip manufacturing and veterans’ health benefits, on top of earlier investments in the Covid response. The climate, health and tax bill is the most significant of the bunch, Democrats say, and also their hardest-won accomplishment.

“This has been one of the most productive stretches in Senate history,” Schumer said in his remarks on Tuesday, listing several of the other bills recently passed in Congress.

Negotiations over a larger $2 trillion spending package dubbed the Build Back Better Act fell apart in dramatic fashion last year after Manchin publicly rejected the bill, setting off a war of words between the centrist Democrat and White House officials.

The public sniping froze any movement on the bill for months. When Manchin finally agreed to resume talks in the spring, it was under the widely agreed-upon condition that the White House would steer clear of direct involvement in the talks — leaving it to Manchin and Schumer to hammer out a deal.

Even so, the effort appeared all but dead as late as July. With Manchin harboring concerns a wide-ranging bill could further add to inflation, Biden appeared ready to settle for quick passage of a far narrower health-focused bill. Yet Manchin and Schumer secretly resumed talks, announcing a surprise deal that devoted much of its spending on the climate and clean energy production.

“Too often, we confuse noise with substance. Too often, we confuse setbacks with defeat. … But with unwavering conviction, commitment and patience, progress does come,” Biden said. He later added, with a measure of relief, that the bill signing was “action that I’ve been looking forward to doing for 18 months.”

Manchin on Tuesday said Biden deserved “all the credit” for continuing to pursue a deal, even as it required him to stay out of the nitty-gritty of negotiations.

“He knew enough, being a former senator, sometimes you’ve just got to let us do what we’ve got to do,” Manchin said.

The turnabout over the last month has revitalized Democrats who say they now have a robust track record to run on as the party tries to build on its Senate majority and stave off widely expected losses in the House. In addition to securing the largest-ever investment in combating climate change, the package caps certain drug costs for seniors and will permit Medicare to negotiate the price of a handful of medicines for the first time — fulfilling a goal Democrats have pursued for decades.

And while Biden stayed out of the negotiations that led up to the bill’s passage, the president is expected to play a central role in trying to sell its benefits to voters across the country. Top White House officials earlier this week outlined plans for a “Building a Better America Tour” that will dispatch Biden, Harris and Cabinet secretaries to tout Democratic accomplishments based around the core message that the party “beat the special interests” en route to fulfilling an ambitious agenda.

“We’ve not wavered, we’ve not flinched and we’ve not given in,” Biden said. “Instead, we’re delivering results for the American people.”

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