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GOP missteps help Democrats deliver their biggest win to date

The Inflation Reduction Act represents the biggest legislative accomplishment of either party since the Affordable Care Act passed more than a decade ago.


In the initial round of balloting on Election Day 2020, then-Sen. David Perdue was the top vote-getter, but the Republican incumbent fell shy of the 50 threshold. In Georgia, that meant he was forced into a runoff election, which Purdue fully expected to win.

He didn’t. Thanks in part to Donald Trump helping depress GOP turnout, Democrat Jon Ossoff eked out a narrow win in early January, despite finishing second in November.

If Perdue had performed just 0.3 percent better in the first round, he would’ve won re-election and left the Senate in Republican hands. That 0.3 percent shortfall meant Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed. It meant the American Rescue Plan passed. It meant the first new gun laws in a generation passed.

And it meant the Democrats’ ambitious Inflation Reduction Act was approved in dramatic fashion yesterday. NBC News reported:

Senate Democrats narrowly passed a sweeping climate and economic package on Sunday, putting President Joe Biden and his party on the cusp of a big legislative victory just three months before the crucial November midterm elections. After a marathon overnight Senate session, the 51-50 vote was strictly along party lines, with all Republicans voting no and all Democrats voting yes. After Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote, Democrats stood and applauded.

The package has been hailed as the biggest climate bill in American history, and the description is more than fair. At the heart of the reconciliation package is roughly $369 billion in investments in climate and energy programs. This includes everything from tax credits for electric vehicles to methane reductions, energy-efficient home improvements to the launch of a National Climate Bank.

It’s also a health care bill, empowering Medicare for the first time to negotiate the cost of some prescription medications with the pharmaceutical industry. It doesn’t apply to all medications, and the benefits won’t begin right away, but nevertheless, Democrats have spent years trying to get a breakthrough victory on this issue, and yesterday, they succeeded.

What’s more, the bill includes a three-year extension on the Affordable Care Act subsidies that helped push the nation’s uninsured rate to an all-time low.

Taken together, this represents the biggest legislative accomplishment of either party since the Affordable Care Act passed more than a decade ago. It wasn’t easy — by some measures, this Sisyphean process began nearly a year and a half ago — and the final product wasn’t quite as transformative as the White House originally envisioned, but it’s still a genuinely impressive governing triumph.

There’s an old proverb about successes having many parents, and plenty will deserve to share the credit for this achievement, but let’s make this plain: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made it happen.

For many years, one of the political world’s most overused jokes has been, “The most dangerous place in Washington is between Chuck Schumer and a TV camera.” It’s now time to retire the maxim: This guy has a legislative record with few modern rivals.

President Joe Biden will receive — and deserve — a lot of credit for the victories of his first two years in office, but in a 50-50 Senate, each of these wins has been hard fought, and it’s been Schumer who’s taken the lead in delivering the successes on everything from Covid relief to veterans’ aid, infrastructure to U.S. competitiveness, climate to health care.

The New York Times noted today that the Democratic leader “is not known as a master tactician or gifted legislator.” Perhaps not. But Schumer’s patience and tenacity have resulted in an unusually impressive record — despite a majority that barely exists in any meaningful way.

He did, however, get some Republican help. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened to derail a microchip bill that he supported, as part of a partisan hostage gambit, it had the effect of pushing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin into Schumer’s arms, clearing the way for a breakthrough compromise.

What’s more, let’s also not forget that when the bipartisan infrastructure package passed — exactly one year ago this week — Senate GOP leaders saw it as part of a strategy to derail a Democratic reconciliation package. Indeed, they admitted as much in public.

As we discussed at the time, the strategy from McConnell & Co. was relatively straightforward: Pass the modest, bipartisan infrastructure package, then sit back and wait for Democrats to tear each other apart over the reconciliation plan. With tiny Democratic majorities in both chambers, and effectively zero margin for error, Republicans gambled, assuming that the infrastructure bill would be the only one that could pass.

We now know they were wrong.