August 11

By Kaia Hubbard

House lawmakers are set to return to Washington on Friday to vote on a landmark climate, health care and tax bill. But even before its passage, the legislation is becoming a key component of Democrats’ midterm messaging strategy.

After the Senate in a tightrope act over the weekend approved the Inflation Reduction Act – which just weeks ago would have been considered a miraculous feat as stalled negotiations made the spending package’s passage seemingly untenable – Democrats are preemptively looking to leverage their success into midterm gains.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the “life-changing legislation” will pass in the friendlier House on Friday. With the support of both chambers, the bill – the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda – will head to the president’s desk.

The administration will all but certainly waste no time getting its latest message out: that Democrats have delivered on “what was best for the American people,” while congressional Republicans sided with special interests and pushed “an extreme MAGA agenda that costs families” every step of the way, according to a White House memo.

“We think there’s a pretty strong case here that the American people have won and special interests have taken a backseat,” a senior administrative official said. “And that is a big, big change.”

The new messaging comes after a string of legislative wins for Biden and congressional Democrats in recent weeks – from a semiconductor bill to legislation aimed at aiding veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. It also comes after positive jobs and inflation reports, and as the administration has made moves against Republican-led efforts to further restrict access to abortion. Democratic voters are showing some signs of responding to the string of wins. A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed the president’s favorable rating rising, almost entirely due to gains from his own party. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats said they approved of the president’s performance – a 9-point gain from a month ago, when he was at 69%.

But the Inflation Reduction Act is at the core of the new strategy, capping off an unusually active summer with a shining achievement in what has until recently been a gridlocked Congress.

The $740 billion measure, which is expected to raise enough money to pay for itself, includes provisions to tackle prescription drug prices, energy costs and corporate taxes and would mark a historic investment in climate protections, with a goal of reducing emissions 40% by 2030. Even so, it’s much narrower than Biden’s similar, but even more ambitious, measure called the Build Back Better Act. That plan dwarfed the current measure and included money for child care, universal preschool and paid family leave.

The White House memo on the president’s upcoming messaging strategy suggested that, with the legislation, Democrats prevailed over special interest groups like Big Pharma, which has previously blocked action to cut prescription drug prices, along with big corporations that have dodged paying taxes. It also paints congressional Republicans, who attempted to block the legislation’s passage over the weekend, as “siding with special interests and the super-wealthy.”

GOP senators sought to block the bill’s passage, arguing that it raises inflation or taxes, while making the economic situation generally worse. They introduced dozens of amendments in an effort to intrigue their Democratic colleagues or force them to make a hard choice with their vote. But Democrats remained largely united, preserving the legislation.

Still, the GOP did succeed in stripping a proposed cap for out-of-pocket spending on insulin from the bill, after the Senate parliamentarian decided that it did not fall within the bounds of the reconciliation procedure, which allowed a simple majority vote rather than the 60-vote threshold required to end debate.

The White House memo framed the move as one by Republicans to “protect Big Pharma,” listing other GOP postures like opposition to “common-sense” gun safety measures and taking away reproductive choice from women as part of their “extremist agenda” that “doesn’t serve working families.”

Meanwhile, Republicans have attempted to capitalize on inflation, claiming that Democrats have “no plan” to help Americans.

“President Biden and House Democrats’ radical policies have caused inflation to soar to a 40-year high,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said during a rare press conference late last month. “They’ve pushed out-of-touch policies that have caused energy prices to rise and real wages to go down.”

Biden and his team intend to travel across the country following the bill signing touting the new message, with the Inflation Reduction Act at the helm, in an apparent effort to change the inflation narrative that has for months weighed most heavily on Americans and been touted most prominently by Republicans as both parties attempt to gain the support of working-class voters in the upcoming midterms.

“This is the choice before the American people,” the memo says. “President Biden and Congressional Democrats taking on special interests for you and your family. Or Congressional Republicans’ extreme, MAGA agenda that serves the wealthiest, corporations and themselves.”