WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a scaled-back version of his ambitious “Build Back Better” agenda into law, capping off a series of modest legislative wins heading into the autumn midterms.
“With this law, the American people won, and the special interests lost,” Biden said.
The measure increases investments in renewable energy, imposes a fee on methane emissions, allows Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to win lower prices for prescription drugs, and extends larger subsidies to poorer families enrolled in the Affordable Care Act.
“This means seniors are going to pay less for their prescription drugs,” Biden said, reading from prepared remarks. “This is a godsend for so many families, and so, so long overdue.”
To pay for it, the new law creates a 15% minimum tax on large corporations and restores positions at the Internal Revenue Service to reduce tax avoidance.
Biden put his signature on the 273-page bill in the White House’s State Dining Room during a brief return to Washington in the middle of his summer vacation, with Cabinet members, staff and others seated before him. He then handed the pen to West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who last month offered his support for a pared-down form of the sweeping changes Biden had campaigned on and sought during his first year and a half in office.
“This bill is the biggest step forward on climate, ever,” Biden boasted.
The legislation increases spending a total of $700 billion over 10 years, with the clean energy provisions costing $385 billion and a three-year extension of the ACA subsidies costing $70 billion. Still, the package will ultimately cut deficits by about $90 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The legislation cleared the Senate under budget bill rules that allow passage with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed for most bills, after Manchin’s unexpected proposal.
Biden’s original plan included free pre-kindergarten for all children and paid family and medical leave for all workers, as well as more aggressive measures to address climate change. It would have increased spending by $2.4 trillion over 10 years and, with $2.2 trillion in new revenues and cuts, would have increased the deficit by $160 billion in the period.
In a nod to polling showing that inflation is the top concern of the voting public right now, Manchin named the new legislation the “Inflation Reduction Act,” having previously declared that “Build Back Better” was dead.
It is the latest piece of legislation that he and Democrats can take credit for, including a bill to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, another to increase domestic manufacturing of computer chips and even one imposing some modest restrictions on gun purchases. In his first year in office, Biden was able to get through the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” to boost the economy as the pandemic receded and then a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that won bipartisan support.
Polling shows that Democrats are likely to lose control of the House in the November midterm elections, and possibly lose the 50-50 split in the Senate that currently gives them control thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s power to cast the tie-breaking vote.