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Schumer says Inflation Reduction Act provides contrast with Republicans in 2024

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to NPR about the Democrats' upcoming plans with the Inflation Reduction Act, at the Capitol, on Aug. 16.
Keren Carrión
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to NPR about the Democrats' upcoming plans with the Inflation Reduction Act, at the Capitol, on Aug. 16.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer marked the first anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Actby arguing President Biden's signature legislative accomplishment will frame the choice for voters between Republicans and Democrats in 2024.

"They're busy investigating. We're busy investing in America. Ask yourself, which one does the public want?" Schumer said, nodding to congressional Republicans' ongoing investigations into Biden's family.

Schumer acknowledged it was going to take some time for the message to resonate with voters.

"The effect is cumulative, and our watchword here is simply persistence," Schumer told NPR during an interview in his Capitol office on Wednesday.

He compared the challenge to Democrats pushing back against the GOP tax-cut package during the 2018 midterm election cycle.

"We believe if we persist, if we're constantly showing the implementation of the IRA, that by the time next summer rolls around, people will know it and know it well," Schumer said.

The IRA empowers the federal health secretary to negotiate the prices of some drugs for Medicare. It caps out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for people on Medicare at $2,000, effective in 2025, and limits the monthly cost for insulin to $35 for those on Medicare.

The law also provided more than $300 billion for energy and climate programs. Although it represents the largest federal clean energy investment in U.S. history, the final bill was much narrower than the broad package that Biden campaigned on in 2020, something that frustrated progressives. The law includes $60 billion for boosting renewable energy infrastructure in manufacturing, for things like solar panels and wind turbines. It also includes tax credits for electric vehicles and measures to make homes more energy efficient.

After opposing the larger proposal, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., crafted the IRA with Schumer last summer. But in recent months, Manchin, who is up for re-election next fall but hasn't announced whether he's running, has publicly lambasted the administration for how it's implementing the law. He issued a statement on the anniversary saying it was putting into place "a radical climate agenda instead of implementing the IRA that was passed into law."

Schumer says he doesn't think the criticism from his lead co-author will take away from the political argument other Democrats are making about the benefits of the climate and health care provisions.

"There are going to be parts that Sen. Manchin never liked and will say he opposes. That's fair enough," Schumer said. "There are lots of things he said he likes in that bill and in the agreement that we had. And so, no, I don't think it hurts us at all."

Schumer joined Biden at an event celebrating the anniversary at the White House on Wednesday and predicted "the best is yet to come."

Biden cited new private sector investments in clean energy and 170,000 new jobs he said are directly due to the one-year old law as evidence it's working.

Schumer argues IRA boosts jobs and climate and is popular in competitive states

The New York Democrat stressed the IRA is a critical part of Democrats' messaging strategy heading into 2024, where they hope to defend Senate seats in competitive Senate races in red states like Ohio, Montana and West Virginia.

Schumer said the IRA ties jobs and climate change together, two issues he thinks resonate strongly with voters.

"I don't think it's really the way to measure it is to say one versus the other," he said. "We put the two in line with each other, climate change and job creation and the economy."

He added recent natural disasters and the change in public opinion on climate in the last five years has more Americans backing the shift to cleaner energy sources.

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to NPR at his office in the Capitol on Aug. 16.
Keren Carrión / NPR
Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to NPR at his office in the Capitol on Aug. 16.

Schumer said Democrats will have concrete examples of the IRA working for voters, pointing to examples of new jobs coming from a new lithium battery plant or semiconductor facility as proof the law is already taking hold in both red and blue states.

The deeper into campaign season Democratic candidates get — in theory — the more examples they'll have to point to when it comes to tangible results from the IRA. Schumer said he believes the same is true about voters' opinions about the state of the economy. "Six months back, the economy was less robust. But six months from now, they're going to see a much better economy and they're going to see costs going down," he said.

Schumer is banking on the theory that voters ultimately want to hear more about how Democrats have created jobs than the House GOP panels' message about accountability for the Biden administration's policies and alleged corruption of the Biden family.

The "right wing" loves these investigations, Schumer said, but maintained: "No one else does. No one even cares. They think it's just Washington usual background noise."

He pointed out that while no Republican voted for the IRA, there are some lawmakers showing up at events in their home states as proof that they believe its popular.

Congressional Republicans took the opportunity on the anniversary to criticize the law, pointing to reports that Americans are paying roughly $700 a month more for goods than 2 years ago and that gas prices are again going up.

Schumer downplays Trump and Hunter Biden investigations clouding message

Pressed on the potential challenge of getting a message out on the law's benefits amid the stream of news about four criminal indictments of former President Trump and the coming trials, Schumer waved off the question as a topic of focus "in the Washington media" but not in key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Nevada.

He said he believed Democrats would keep their Senate majority in 2024, predicting a "very strong Democratic tide."

The majority leader said the ongoing investigations of Hunter Biden, the president's son, would not interfere with Democrats' ability to contrast with the GOP.

House Republicans continue a multi-committee effort to examine Hunter Biden's business dealings with foreign entities and have made unproven allegations that the president himself profited from them. Separately, Attorney General Merrick Garland tapped David Weiss to be special counselto investigate Hunter Biden after a plea deal on tax charges and a firearms offense fell apart last month.

Schumer said those on the "hard right" will "salivate about Hunter Biden" but the majority of Americans will be focused on the cost for insulin that will be $35 and the cap for prescription drugs.

"People care most about getting their costs down, making sure there are good paying jobs for themselves and their kids. That's what the IRA has done," Schumer said. "And I believe by the time the election gets closer, that will be the dominant thing in people's mind. Not any of this stuff."

Government funding and additional money for Ukraine

Schumer told reporters Tuesday that he supports passing a short term funding bill through early December that would avoid a shutdown so that the House and Senate have more time to negotiate annual spending bills. Federal agencies will run out of money at the end of September if Congress fails to act.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy floated a possible continuing resolution in a call with House GOP lawmakers earlier this week in order for the chamber to work through the bills.

Last month, House floor votes were postponed after McCarthy struggled with divisions between far right conservatives making demands on spending levels and policy additions, and it's unclear whether GOP leaders have made progress on how to get past that impasse.

Schumer backs the $40 billion supplemental funding package that the Biden administration recently requested, which includes money for disaster relief, border security, and additional security assistance for Ukraine.

Asked about the significant bloc of opposition from House Republicans who oppose more money for Ukraine, Schumer emphasized they are in the minority on this issue.

"Most of the Senate Republicans are on the other side. Most of the House Republicans are on the other side," he told NPR. "So, you know, they are very, very obstreperous. And they want their way or the highway, but their highway is over a cliff for themselves and all the Republicans that follow them."

-NPR's Casey Morell and Barbara Sprunt contributed to this report

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Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.