Senate agreement on climate change, health care revives Biden’s legislative agenda

Senate Democrats are lauding a deal on a spending package to reduce the deficit, lower health care costs, raise corporate taxes and combat climate change. It's a stunning development after more than a year of negotiations had failed to win the support of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. White House correspondent Laura Barrón-López and John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News join Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New data out today shows the U.S. economy shrank for the second straight quarter, stoking fears that the nation might be nearing, if not already in a recession.

    The White House pushed back against that idea today, pointing to strong job growth in recent months. At the same time, Democrats are lauding a Senate deal announced late yesterday to address inflation, while reducing the deficit, lowering health care costs, raising corporate taxes, and combating climate change.

    The agreement is a stunning development after over a year of negotiations that failed to win the support of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, stalling key parts of the president's agenda in the closely divided Senate.

    In a speech today, President Biden said the deal would strengthen the economy.

  • President Joe Biden:

    The work of the government can be slow and frustrating, and sometimes even infuriating. Then the hard work of hours and days and months from people who refused to give up pays off. History is made. Lives are changed.

    With this legislation, we're facing up to some of our biggest problems and we're taking a giant step forward as a nation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will look more closely at the broader state of the economy in a moment.

    But, first, Geoff Bennett has more on the Democratic deal, what it does, and how it came to be.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    It took months of painstaking negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin to get to this deal. It's a compromise on what was the president's Build Back Better agenda and is now a $740 billion spending package that Democrats are calling the Inflation Reduction Act.

    Here's what it would do. It allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and extends Affordable Care Act subsidies that lower premium costs. Those were set to expire at the end of the year. It provides $369 billion in climate and energy investments. It raises the corporate tax minimum to 15 percent for billion-dollar companies.

    And Democrats say it will reduce the federal deficit by roughly $300 billion over the next decade.

    Joining us to break down both the policy and the politics surrounding it, our White House correspondent, Laura Barrón-López, and, on Capitol Hill, John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News.

    It's great to see you both.

    And, Laura, President Biden said today he's he's urging congressional Democrats to pass this proposal, this bill as quickly as possible. He says it's not perfect, but the Medicare provision that would allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs to lower prescription drug prices, that has been long opposed by the pharmaceutical industry.

    If this bill passes, that is hugely significant.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    That's really big.

    It's also something that President Biden has been pushing and really trying to just encourage Democrats to pursue as aggressively as possible since last summer. The White House has been arguing that this would also be a big political benefit for the president and for Democrats down-ballot.

    And a lot of Democrats in vulnerable districts and in tough competitions and Senate races that I have spoken to have long said that, even if they couldn't get this in reconciliation, they wanted to pursue this individually, because of the fact that so many Democratic pollsters argue that this is a really big winner with voters, particularly Black and Latino voters, who supported.

    An AARP poll last year said that they support it by 80 percent of Black voters, 70 percent of Latino voters. So this is definitely, if it passes, a big win for the White House.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yes. And Senator Schumer said today that they intend to include provisions to cap the price of insulin. So we will see what — see what happens there.

    Hey, Bres, how did Senator Manchin get to yes? As I understand it, you had a long conversation with him yesterday. And I ask the question, because, as folks will remember, back in December, Manchin said that he couldn't support the Build Back Better Act. Just a couple of weeks ago, he said he wasn't on board with the climate provisions, in part because of the way that he thought this bill would impact record inflation.

    But here's what he said today in a local radio interview in West Virginia. Take a listen.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV):

    Well, there's no such thing as the Build Back Better. This is truly going to be around inflation reductions.

    I knew, matter what we do, if we could do some good now and have an energy policy that worked, and do all this too, without raising taxes, truly not raising taxes, and not adding to inflation, and I'm going to walk away from that because I think it's going to harm me politically, then I'm the wrong person to be where I'm at.

    So I did this. This is the bill for the country. It's not a bill for Democrats.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So what accounts for his reversal, his change of heart?

  • John Bresnahan, Punchbowl News:

    You have to give Schumer a lot of credit here. He stuck with this.

    I mean, he has gotten a lot of grief for the way he's interacted with Manchin. They — the two had a very good relationship when Schumer became the Democratic leader a couple of years ago. In fact, Schumer and Manchin were — I mean, Manchin did not get along with Harry Reid, the previous Democratic leader.

    Schumer for him was a big plus. But you had the big moment in December when Schumer — when Manchin walked away from Build Back Better. That was a huge embarrassment for the president, a huge embarrassment for Schumer.

    You had a big moment in — early in this year, when Manchin refused to move on the filibuster. I mean, that was a big embarrassment again for Schumer. But — and, again, it looked like, a couple of weeks ago, they were going to — these talks were going to break down.

    But Manchin put out a statement. And it was interesting. He kept saying to me and he kept saying some other reporters: I'm not walking away from the table. Chuck says I am, but I'm not.

    And they kept talking. And Senator Schumer said today, on June — on July 18, Manchin reached out to him after he had announced that the deal had fallen apart. Manchin said: Hey, I want to keep talking.

    And so they kept talking and were able to come up with a deal this week.

  • Geoff Bennet:

    And, Laura, this agreement also marked the most substantial effort to tackle climate change by the federal government in recent history, reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030.

    That's not quite what President Biden set out to do, but is that close enough for this White House?

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    This White House is saying that this is the most historic climate change legislation that will ever have been passed or has been passed to date.

    And so, yes, Biden definitely supports this. The president today highlighted the fact that it's almost there. It's 40 percent. His initial goal was 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions. I was talking to Senator Brian Schatz today of Hawaii, and he said that he thinks that that's really significant and that, eventually, industry, with that momentum, can just eventually get there.

    Part of this is a big thing that the White House also wanted in terms of rebates for electric vehicles, new and used ones. It would incentivize, have tax credits for clean energy and low income-communities for fighting pollution.

    So, essentially right now, the president, when he thought that this deal was dead, as John just mentioned, was talking about potentially doing executive actions. But, right now, those are probably put on ice, because a lot of Democrats think that the president shouldn't pursue now more executive actions, because they don't want to disturb the negotiations ongoing right now on the Hill.

    And they want to make sure that this bill passes.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yes.

    And, John, if we can, let's talk about the hurdles that remain, namely, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. She was ducking and dodging reporters as they tried to ask questions of her as she left the Capitol today. You have got a couple of members out with COVID, to include Senator Dick Durbin. That's going to delay things.

    How is Senate leadership, Democratic Senate leadership, planning to tackle all of that?

  • John Bresnahan:

    Yes, I mean, Sinema is an issue. We asked Schumer about this today. He kind of indicated he thinks all 50 Senate Democrats will be on board.

    Sinema would not say. She plays this very close to the vest. She doesn't say what she's going to do. She hadn't done that previously on Build Back Better. She was very concerned about tax issue and tax increases.

    Manchin thinks she will be there. I talked to him about this also. He thinks she will support this. But she's concerned about it.

    Now, on the COVID issue, this is a serious issues. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin came down positive for COVID today. He's — minor symptoms, but he's going to be out until next week. There's a couple. Senator Manchin was out this week. You just had a couple Democratic senators come back.

    There's another issue with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who fell and broke his hip and has had hip surgeries. He has had two hip surgeries. His office says he will be back. We see this coming to the floor in the Senate. It's probably going to take about a week to get it. It's got some procedural hurdles it's got to get through. It's got to get vetted to make sure it comports with all Senate rules.

    It's very complicated, the Byrd Rule. You know all about it. But they — we think it's going to come to the floor next week. It'll take several days to process and have vote-a-rama. It's a bunch of amendments get voted on.

    So we're thinking possibly the Senate can do it, if they have all 50 Senate Democrats, they could finish this next weekend. We think that's a possibility. Then the House would have to come back. They're reassessing now. They'd have to come back and vote on it.

    But it's probably going to take two weeks, maybe three, to get this done. But there's some hurdles remain. And it's mostly COVID right now and Sinema. Those are the big questions.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News and our White House correspondent, Laura Barrón-López, thank you both — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Geoff.

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