Sen. Joe Manchin shocked the nation Wednesday evening when Senate Democrats announced a reconciliation bill addressing climate change and some health care costs that Manchin was willing to commit to in public after more than a year of dangling his vote in agonizing negotiations. Expectations for a bill Manchin might sign onto had been reduced to tiny shards of the bare minimum, and the announced deal far exceeds those expectations. Republicans responded with fury—and, since a reconciliation bill can be passed with a simple majority in the Senate, they’re taking it out on other legislation, starting with a bill to help veterans suffering from toxic exposure.
Republicans blocked the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act—it got 55 votes, but the 42 votes against it prevailed—following the announcement of the reconciliation deal with Manchin. There’s no doubt this was revenge: The bill had overwhelmingly passed the Senate in June, 84 to 14, with Wednesday’s vote being to make technical corrections after it passed the House. The bill, which would “establish a presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers related to the smoke from burn pits” for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as creating similar protections for certain toxins veterans of the Cold War, Vietnam, and other conflicts were exposed to, would benefit about one in five living veterans. It’s also personal for President Joe Biden, who has frequently spoken about the possibility that his son Beau’s fatal brain cancer was related to burn pit exposure.
Some House Republicans are similarly planning to vote against things they had previously supported in retribution for the reconciliation deal, though given the Democratic House majority and the House’s simple majority vote rules, that’s less of an issue than making veterans exposed to toxins wait for the help they need as part of a temper tantrum.
Republican temper tantrums aside, the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” is, as announced, far better than expected. It includes $433 billion of new spending, focused on climate change and clean energy. It expands tax credits for clean energy producers, extending the typical one or two years of tax credit they’ve previously been offered to 10 years. There’s $30 billion in incentives to manufacture things like solar panels and wind turbines and batteries in the United States. There are tax credits for some buyers of electric vehicles and for making homes more energy efficient.
It does also have some bonuses for the fossil fuel industry, in line with Manchin’s coal-centric bank account and overall view of the world, but “the bill is still absolutely worth it for climate change,” Leah Stokes, an environmental policy professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told The New York Times.
Additionally, the bill includes a three-year extension of health care tax credits helping 13 million people, and allows Medicare to negotiate prices on some drugs.
It pays for all of this through tax changes including a 15% minimum tax for corporations and additional funding to allow the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on tax cheats. In addition to funding the investments in climate and health care, it includes $300 billion to cut the deficit, one of Manchin’s particular obsessions.
This is not the trillions of dollars in investment that the United States needs—and that truly fighting climate change requires—but it’s so, so much more than we’d come to expect, and it is a historic amount of funding to fight climate change.
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