Wait, what? All of a sudden, Democrats are no longer in disarray. Instead, they’re marching in tight formation and achieving major goals. It’s such an unfamiliar sensation that it’s almost hard to recognize when it’s happening.
Now, it’s a different story.
Final Senate passage on Sunday of the giant climate change, health-care and tax reform package continued a remarkable winning streak for Biden. When House Democrats send the bill to Biden’s desk for his signature, which they could do later this week, the party will have an answer when midterm voters ask the all-important question “What have you done for me lately?”
The IRA, with its unintentional echo of the tax-deferred savings plans with the same initials, is the biggest investment this nation has ever made in fighting climate change. It will lower the cost of prescription drugs, especially for seniors. It will force some of our biggest and richest companies to pay at least some money in taxes. And it will significantly reduce, not add to, the federal budget deficit.
The bill including these sensible and popular measures passed the Senate without a single Republican vote. In an ugly footnote to the debate, Republicans temporarily blocked an unrelated, bipartisan measure ensuring adequate care for veterans sickened by fumes from toxic burn pits. Democrats and comedian Jon Stewart shamed GOP senators, saying they were pitching a fit about the IRA; Republicans said their objections were rooted in an accounting issue.
The result: It’s the Republican Party that now looks disorganized and dangerously out of step.
Take last week’s political earthquake in Kansas, a GOP stronghold, where voters massively rejected a measure that would have stripped protection for abortion rights out of the state constitution. In states across the country, most recently Indiana, Republican legislators are proposing or enacting draconian abortion bans with few or no exceptions — dragging the whole party over to what is clearly the wrong side of an urgent, hot-button issue that brings supporters of abortion rights to the polls in droves.
And rather than offering fresh policy proposals to make up for this attempt to force-march American women into the distant past, the party is playing the same old stale hits. Many GOP officials spent the past few days in Dallas attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, where Donald Trump falsely claimed once again that the 2020 election was “rigged and stolen,” called for a purge of the U.S. civil service, threatened social media companies and proposed sending the military into cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and New York to “restore order.”
For those who might have soured on Trump, CPAC’s alternative was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a neofascist authoritarian. When Orban declared recently that Europeans should not “become peoples of mixed race,” a longtime adviser resigned and declared the remark “worthy of Goebbels.” CPAC’s response, delivered by organizer Matt Schlapp, was “Let’s listen to the man speak.” Orban was a headliner at the conference, railing that “the globalists can go to hell.” This is how the party wants to spend its time? Now throw in the wacky and incompetent Trump-endorsed candidates the party has nominated in key Senate races, and it’s the GOP looking like the party of bad, accidental comedy.
Before the summer, I’d have said there was no way Democrats could defy history and keep, much less grow, their slim majorities in the House and the Senate this fall. Now, I’d say that Democrats have a better-than-even chance of retaining control of the Senate — and at least a prayer of doing so in the House.
For Biden and his party, it helps that gasoline prices are falling about as rapidly as they rose. On June 14, the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded was $5.02, according to the American Automobile Association. On Monday, the average was $4.06 — and drivers are noticing the difference. And while we’ve had two successive quarters of slight economic contraction, this certainly doesn’t feel like a recession, not with unemployment at just 3.5 percent.
Overall inflation remains high, however, and there is not much that any president can do to bring prices down quickly. But it helps, politically, if a president and his party are visibly trying. So yes, there was good reason to call the historic legislation passed Sunday the IRA. Whether it will also prove to be the DRA — the Democratic Retention Act — remains to be seen.