Climate, health and tax debate moves quickly to campaign realm

House expected to take up Senate-passed bill on Friday

Raphael Warnock of Georgia, left, and Mark Kelly of Arizona are among Senate Democrats who supported the reconciliation bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Raphael Warnock of Georgia, left, and Mark Kelly of Arizona are among Senate Democrats who supported the reconciliation bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 9, 2022 at 2:21pm

The debate over the sweeping climate, health and tax bill passed by Senate Democrats last weekend is already moving to the campaign trail, even before the House has cleared it for President Joe Biden's signature.

One Nation, the nonprofit associated with the Senate Leadership Fund — the super PAC run by allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — on Tuesday announced an ad blitz against the package, passed Sunday.

The ads include an inflation-themed spot to kick off a $3.8 million campaign targeting Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Ohio. Ryan is running against Republican J.D. Vance.

The group is also running ads in Georgia focused on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is facing Herschel Walker in November.

"Tell Sen. Warnock to start voting against reckless spending to stop inflation," says the ad.

Democrats say that is exactly what they are doing with the reconciliation package, which would likely spend more than $450 billion over the next 10 years on an assortment of priorities, including some that could bring down consumer costs.

Democrats also focused on the legislation's potential to reduce the cost of prescription drugs — while hammering Republicans for using budget reconciliation rules to remove language that would have capped copayments for insulin for people with private insurance.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., appeared Tuesday at an event with AARP New Hampshire to tout the prescription drug provisions as her campaign was criticizing a likely challenger over his opposition to the insulin pricing proposal.

“Affording life-saving medications has been getting harder and harder for some families ... while Big Pharma is raking in record profits," Hassan said.

In neighboring Vermont, Rep. Peter Welch, who is seeking the state's open Senate seat, was touting the bill's health care provisions. So were Colorado Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. Bennet faces a hotly contested reelection race this year.

Rep. Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat, speaking Monday on a press call organized by the Florida Democratic Party, called the bill "a win-win for Florida families."

"That is why it is inexplicable that Marco Rubio voted against Florida, voted against Floridians, voted against Medicare beneficiaries, voted in essence to allow drug companies to continue to price gouge and to reach into their pockets and charge these exorbitant rates for life-saving drugs," Castor said.

Some of the first GOP attacks out of the gate came in the form of direct-to-camera video from Republicans on the ballot in 2022, including Sen. Rubio.

"A new tax on oil, $369 billion in climate spending on electric cars and solar panels, and not on hiring new border agents, but on hiring 87,000 new IRS agents to audit and harass people that are making less than $400,000 a year," Rubio, R-Fla., said in rattling off a list of what he described as Democratic priorities in the bill in one such video, posted Monday.

The funding for additional IRS personnel, which is designed to help close the tax gap between what is paid and what is actually owed to the federal government, has been criticized by multiple Republicans.

"If we take back the House and the Senate in November, which I think we could, we should not pass any appropriation bill to fund the government that authorizes this expansion," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. "I’m going to introduce legislation to roll this back, to direct this money to better purposes, like starting with border security."

And Blake Masters, the Republican nominee for Senate in Arizona, previewed his campaign's plans for coming attacks on incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in a video posted Sunday, saying "he's going to own this horrible vote, we're going to unpack all his terrible votes on the amendments."

Prior to the bill's passage, the Senate considered dozens of amendments, including many designed to provide political fodder for the campaign. Democrats were united, for example, in blocking a GOP attempt to provide funding for the Trump-era immigration restrictions under Title 42 that came about because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hassan, Warnock, Kelly and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada were among the Democratic senators to support a counterproposal offered as a side-by-side amendment that was destined to fall on a budget point of order.

Democrats from the West, including Kelly, Cortez Masto and Bennet, will not just be on defense, however. The three took credit for $4 billion in funding to respond to drought conditions in their region of the country. The water level at Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border has reached historic lows.

With anticipated House passage by this weekend and a likely White House signing ceremony to follow during the August recess, Democrats will also be hoping that the surge in legislative activity will bolster Biden's approval ratings going into the midterm elections.

Biden on Tuesday signed legislation designed to enhance America's competitiveness when it comes to semiconductors and other scientific developments, and he is scheduled on Wednesday to sign a major veterans benefits measure.

The Democratic National Committee is launching paid TV and digital ads supporting the reconciliation bill, according to a source familiar with the DNC's planning. The source said to expect new advertising in Black, Latino and Asian American and Pacific Islander media outlets. The DNC is also working on booking key surrogates to promote the legislation in the coming weeks and working to coordinate events with state parties. 

Like One Nation and Senate Leadership Fund, groups aligned with Senate Democrats are active as well.

“Every single Republican in the Senate opposed the Inflation Reduction Act and fought to keep costs high to continue enriching Big Oil, Big Pharma, and their corporate allies who are raking in record profits by jacking up prices on the American people," Veronica Yoo, a Senate Majority PAC spokesperson, said in a statement. "Once again, Senate Republicans have completely sold out working families to line the pockets of the ultra-wealthy and we intend to relentlessly remind folks of their disgraceful votes so they can hold the GOP accountable in November."