Chuck Schumer insists last year’s marquee Inflation Reduction Act will help lift his incumbents to victory in 2024. Even in West Virginia.
And the state’s vulnerable centrist incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), is mostly touting the law this month, despite GOP attacks over his imprint on the energy, tax and health care law that’s becoming a focal point of next year’s battle for the Senate.
As President Joe Biden celebrated the law’s one-year anniversary on Wednesday, Manchin offered a mostly positive review, save for his complaints about the Biden administration’s implementation. His upbeat take indicates Democrats’ embrace of the law as they head into a tough election cycle, forced to defend seats in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio.
“Our senators are really happy with it,” the Senate majority leader told POLITICO. “Things are happening in West Virginia that are very, very positive.”
With divided government stymieing most new bipartisan accomplishments this Congress, the 2024 campaign may act as a decisive referendum on Democrats’ three key economic proposals: The IRA, a nine-figure infrastructure spending plan and a microchip manufacturing law. The 2022 midterms largely came too soon for those laws to be fully digested by voters, but by this time next year all three will be politically ripe — to sell or to demonize.
The party-line Inflation Reduction bill, which Manchin wrote with Schumer after the West Virginian cut it down to size from a more liberal alternative, stands out from the pack by allowing Democrats to draw a vivid contrast with Republicans who uniformly opposed it. And at the moment, Democrats are conspicuously embracing a law that has yet to animate the GOP’s vitriol like Obamacare did in 2010.
Save for some occasional skittishness from Manchin about the administration’s approach to its clean energy provisions, the Inflation Reduction Act is getting a much more robust and organized Democratic defense this year than Obamacare received more than a decade ago. Schumer’s party may have little other choice: Few Democrats see a political upside in running away from bills they already voted for.
Another endangered red-state incumbent, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), on Wednesday celebrated the law’s efforts to lower drug prices and create new jobs. Manchin, for his part, called the IRA “exactly the kind of legislation that in normal political times both political parties would proudly embrace.” Democrats’ campaign arms in the House and Senate trumpeted the law and lashed Republicans for opposing it.
In a year’s time, Schumer predicted, “people will really know what the IRA has done and what the Senate has done … second, they’re gonna think the economy is much better.”
“The good news about the economy, lower inflation, more jobs, less unemployment, will be the much more dominant message,” the New York Democrat contended. “And I think that people will give us a lot of credit for that.”
Still, Republicans are clearly not going to concede the law’s viability to Democrats, particularly when some in the GOP see policy contrasts as a better fight to pick this election season than defending former President Donald Trump or attacking Hunter Biden. The Republican bid to undercut the IRA starts with Manchin, who they want to knock out of the 2024 race before it even begins.
The Democratic senator got hit with $100,000 of negative ads from GOP group One Nation on Wednesday, on top of another tranche of ads the group launched earlier this year. One Nation’s president, Steven Law, said there’s more messaging to come “against legislation that could cost Americans their jobs and livelihoods.” One Nation is the nonprofit companion of the massive Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee was even more harsh.
“For Joe Manchin, writing and voting for Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act was the political equivalent of walking into the street, dumping gasoline on himself, and lighting a match,” NRSC spokesperson Mike Berg said, citing the West Virginian’s declining approval numbers.
But other than decrying the Biden administration’s attempt “to implement the IRA as a radical climate agenda,” Manchin is largely holding his ground as he mulls whether to run for reelection, become an independent or even run for president. Ditto Brown and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — whose three seats represent the front lines of next year’s battle for the majority.
Last year, the Schumer-aligned Senate Majority PAC ran several ads touting the IRA’s $35 insulin cap and prescription drug provisions. Next year, there will be opportunities for that group and Democratic senators to tout specific economic investments in their states as well.
“In 2022, voters defied historical precedent and expanded Democrats’ Senate majority because they knew then, like they know now, that Democrats will always deliver results to support and lower costs for hardworking families while Republicans will only ever look out for big corporations,” said Sarah Guggenheimer, a spokesperson for the Schumer-aligned super PAC.
Schumer played an integral role working with Manchin on the IRA, a law that came only after the two struggled to negotiate a compromise for a year. Their eventual accord fell far short of the sweeping social changes once envisioned by Democrats, but despite Manchin’s downsizing, the law is nonetheless reshaping the U.S. economy — particularly the energy sector.
The task now for Democrats is convincing the public that the law’s spending, tax and health care provisions have cooled inflation and lowered health care costs. That won’t be an easy task in a media environment dominated by Trump, Hunter Biden and the 2024 GOP presidential primary.
Summing up the contrast with Republicans on policy and the IRA, Schumer said: “The message of Republicans is, we want to investigate. Our message is, we want to invest.”
“They’re trying to get their message out, I’ll match ours against theirs any day of the week,” he added.
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