In a polarized America, you don’t get this kind of agreement on much of anything.
Three-fourths of voters favor empowering Medicare to bargain with drug companies for lower prices, and capping older Americans’ drug costs at $2,000 annually. In the same Morning Consult/Politico poll, a similar share supports reducing the federal deficit by up to $300 billion. Roughly 3 in 5 voters endorse a minimum tax rate for corporations, tax credits to promote renewable energy, and an extension of healthcare subsidies for the needy.
The Inflation Reduction Act includes all this and more. So, Republicans, what’s not to like?
The 730-page bill may or may not deliver on the inflation promise implied by the Democrats' politically self-serving title for it, but the measure would do plenty that Americans — including Republican voters — like a lot, polls show. Yet not one Senate Republican voted for the package Sunday. Not. One. Don’t expect a much different result Friday, when the Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass the bill and send it to President Biden to sign into law.
That Congress would pass a package so full of people-pleasers on a strictly party-line vote is yet another sorry reflection of the state of American politics, and in particular of the Republican Party. How is a nation of 330 million people supposed to solve problems when one of the two major parties is policy-phobic and compromise-averse?
Republicans simply don’t want to let Democrats score points by enacting a signature piece of Biden’s domestic agenda, whatever the benefits to their constituents, especially this close to the midterm elections. What’s more, in a party in which compromise is often a firing offense, Republican lawmakers who cross lines to back a Democratic priority have good reason to fear drawing a challenger in the next Republican primary.
Folks inclined to whataboutism and bothsidesism might counter that, well, in the Trump years, Democrats unanimously opposed Republicans’ signature accomplishment: the 2017 law that slashed taxes for businesses and wealthy individuals. But that package was opposed by most Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, when it passed, and it remains unpopular. (Republicans now damning the Democrats’ bill as a budget-buster — which it’s not — won't acknowledge this: Their 2017 tax cuts are projected to add as much as $2 trillion to the debt through 2025.)
I’m old enough to remember when Republicans called themselves the party of ideas. Now they’re mainly culture warriors. Proposing policies that help people and address chronic domestic problems is no longer their strong suit, to say the least.
What do they promise should they win control of Congress? Investigations of the Justice Department and the FBI, Hunter Biden and Anthony Fauci, all of which promise to be as lengthy, costly and unproductive as their Benghazi probes of the Obama years.
When news leaked three months ago that the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court would overturn Roe vs. Wade, celebratory conservatives promised a new phase of their “pro-life” advocacy, in which they'd push for more government assistance for needy mothers and kids.
But it turns out most Republicans in Congress are little interested, even if the initiatives come from their own side. “There are actually a lot of resources for expecting and new Moms” in existing federal programs, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissively told the Washington Post.
Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who talks a lot about a family-friendly domestic agenda, told the Post that, with the end of a federal right to abortion, “We see an opportunity … to really move on it.” Yet when he had the chance during Senate debate to amend the Inflation Reduction Act, Rubio proposed not constructive family policy but a cheap-shot volley in the culture wars — an anti-transgender amendment stipulating that only "biological" women could receive benefits from federal maternal and infant programs.
Republicans’ one victory in the Senate amendment process? Deleting the bill’s provision for a $35 monthly cap on over-the-top insulin costs. Proud of yourselves?
On climate change, the debate showcased that Republicans not only have no policies to arrest the planet’s unsustainable warming, but they also deride Democrats who do as elitists. Yet even as the Senate debate droned on, it wasn’t elitists nationwide who were suffering from the increasingly evident effects of climate change — extreme and deadly storms, heat waves and droughts. It was Everyman and Everywoman, their constituents.
Many Republicans loudly condemned what Sen. Michael D. Crapo of Idaho called “an army of IRS agents” that the Democrats’ bill would unleash with an $80-billion infusion for the tax bureau. The unpopular Internal Revenue Service has been so depleted by budget cuts that audits of tax dodgers are rare indeed, and its technology is stuck in the age of paper-processing.
In the Reagan and George H.W. Bush years, Republicans routinely supported providing more money for the IRS in deficit reduction bills because Congress’ nonpartisan scorekeepers rightly ruled that such spending was a revenue raiser: More money meant more agents, more audits, fewer tax evaders, lower deficits.
Not surprisingly given the demonization of tax collectors since biblical times, the IRS provision is the one element of Democrats’ bill that doesn’t poll well. Yet the rest adds up to a popular whole, a landmark achievement that probably will help the underdog Democrats in the midterm elections.
Democrats are so jazzed by this and other positive news lately that they’ve taken to co-opting Republicans’ vulgar “Let’s go, Brandon” meme applied to the president. They’ve conjured superhero “Dark Brandon.” This Biden is a smiter of Republicans and terrorists, a brandisher of mighty pens to sign major legislation — and a keeper of (most) campaign promises.
Some popular promises — an expanded child tax credit, universal prekindergarten and higher taxes on the wealthy — were left out to satisfy Democrats’ maverick senators, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Yet here’s another thing most Americans agree on, whether in politics or life: You take what you can get.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.