WASHINGTON — As he prepared to sign the Inflation Reduction Act on Tuesday, President Biden rebuked critics and celebrated passage of a law that, supporters say, will significantly reorient the economy toward renewable sources of energy and make health care more affordable.
“With this law, the American people won, and the special interests lost,” Biden said during a White House event, seemingly referencing the pharmaceutical and energy industries, which opposed the measure that Congress ratified last week. The IRA includes $369 billion for green energy initiatives and allows Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.
“For a while, people doubted whether any of that was going to happen,” Biden said. “But we are in a season of substance.”
Doubts peaked when talks about the Build Back Better proposal — a more ambitious, and expensive, version of the IRA — broke down in the Senate late last year. But in a surprise development, Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader in the Senate, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key moderate vote, negotiated a plan that included key components of Build Back Better along with $300 billion for deficit reduction.
“The work of governing is hard. It’s frustrating and slow,” Biden wrote in a guest essay for Yahoo News. “It requires compromise. Making progress in a country as big and complicated as ours isn’t easy. It never has been.”
Schumer and Manchin joined the president onstage for the signing ceremony, as did Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a leading Democrat in the House. After he signed the law, Biden handed the pen he’d used to Manchin.
Speaking to reporters several minutes later outside the West Wing, a pleased Manchin said that he had come up with the name of the bill the president had just turned into law. Progressives and conservatives disagree on whether the Inflation Reduction Act will help reduce inflation, which has recently spiked. It is unlikely to do so in the short term, but reducing the deficit is seen as a significant goal in its own right.
“This is a great day,” Manchin told reporters. Seemingly imbued with the spirit of victory, he expressed a desire to move on immigration reform (“I’d do it today,” he said) but also cautioned progressives that he remained skeptical of Build Back Better’s social spending programs, which remain a priority for the Democratic base. His opposition to Build Back Better had helped doom that measure.
For Biden, Tuesday marked the culmination of an 18-month effort to reconcile differences in the House between progressives and moderates while keeping Senate centrists (namely Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona) in line. Earlier he had taken a more active part in negotiations, but as details of the Manchin-Schumer deal emerged, Biden let the Senate work through its own differences.
“And he knew enough, being a former senator,” Manchin said of the president, who represented Delaware in the upper chamber for 36 years, “sometimes you gotta let us do what we got to do.”
In addition to the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden has also recently signed the first gun control legislation since 1994, as well as the CHIPS and Science Act, which invests $52 billion to galvanize the domestic semiconductor industry. He also saw his nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steve Dettelbach, confirmed by the Senate. The agency, which enforces existing gun laws, has not had a Senate-confirmed leader since 2015.
“I know there are those here today who hold a dark and despairing view of this country,” Biden said in his White House remarks as he prepared to sign the Inflation Reduction Act. “I’m not one of them.”