Democrats passed the Inflation Reduction Act – a massive bill that focuses on combating climate change, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and continues subsidies for health insurance– through the House of Representatives, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk.
The legislation passed on Friday afternoon with all Democrats voting for the bill. No Republicans voted for it. The Senate passed it on a party line vote on Sunday, with all 50 Democratic Senators voting for it and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.
Significant climate action appeared doomed just a few weeks ago after Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from coal-heavy West Virginia, looked to be withdrawing his support, once again. But Mr Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they had reached an agreement last month.
Activists for combating climate change see the soon-to-be law is viewed as a step forward in fighting the climate crisis which has contributed to a wave of disasters this summer including devastating flooding in Kentucky which left 38 people dead; dozens of wildfires in at least 15 states, and tens of millions of Americans under dangerous heat warnings.
However Mr Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has made a fortune from the coal industry in his home state of West Virginia, was able to add several fossil-fuel boosting projects during negotiations to get his support.
These include a requirement that the government auction off leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands and water, including in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska.
Coal and gas plants that use carbon-capture, a relatively new technology, will also get expanded tax credits. Mr Manchin was given a separate promise that permits for the Mountain Valley gas pipeline in West Virginia would also be sped up.
Jean Su, Energy Justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity called the bill an “unjust process, where the voices of communities at the frontlines of fossil fuel production and harm were largely ignored”.
“While it contains important renewable-energy funding, the bill’s commitment to massive federal oil and gas expansion is dangerously at odds with scientific reality: We must stop extracting fossil fuels to preserve a livable planet,” she added.
The Inflation Reduction Act is the biggest investment ever made by the US government to tackling the climate crisis.
Without the bill, analysts projected that the US would have a very slim chance of meeting its pledge to cut domestic emissions in half by 2030 (over 2005 levels).But with the new legislation set to channel $369 billion into climate and clean energy investments, US emissions will be cut around 40 per cent, according to multiple independent analyses.
Billions of dollars for tax incentives will help to expand renewable energy like wind and solar, battery storage and nuclear power over the next 10 years.
The legislation also provides tax credits to make it easier to buy electric vehicles, help farmers cut agricultural emissions, and fund improvements in minority and low-income communities who are most harmed by climate and environmental pollution.
Representative Deborah Ross of North Carolina, a member of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, hailed the legislation.
“It’s not everything that we want, but it’s everything that we can get at a crucial point in the US is leadership,” she told The Independent. “I’m gonna campaign on it, I’m so thrilled and I think it’s going to be enormously important, like I said, both for areas like the Research Triangle where we’re going to create all these clean energy jobs, but also for rural areas. We manufacture a lot of clean energy components in our rural areas.”
On the health care side, the bill will extend subsidies for the Affordable Care Act for three years, allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs and cap the price of insulin to $35 for Medicare recipients.
“Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, putting a cap on what seniors pay is just a something that people pull me over in the grocery store about to tell me about the price of their drugs,” Rep Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan who faces a tough re-election, told The Independent.
Ms Slotkin said she got into politics because she saw how her mother was uininsured when she had ovarian cancer and could not pay for her drugs.
“And, look, it’s not perfect, but it will lower prescription drug prices for millions and millions of seniors. And I think that that’s fundamental,” she said.
Many House members were not physically present given since the vote took place during the August recess. Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, a member of the Squad, cast proxy votes for Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Cori Bush of Missouri.
The legislation is significantly scaled back from Mr Biden’s proposed Build Back Better legislation that he had pushed for much of last year that would have included an expanded child tax credit; child care; Medicare coverage for hearing; free community college; universal preschool and home care for elderly people and people with disabilities.
“We still want the President to declare a climate emergency so we’re still going to be pushing for that,” Mr Bowman said. “And we’re still going to come back to the table to continue to do work on climate and childcare and housing, all the other stuff that we need, but this is a huge one.”