Some days in Washington surprise just about everyone. Wednesday was one of those days.
After more than a year of delays, setbacks, and intra-party wrangling, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, on a $433 billion health, climate, and tax bill. Manchin’s pivotal support means Democrats may be able to ram the bill through Congress without any Republican votes.
Democrats hailed the agreement as an unexpected breakthrough. President Joe Biden called on Congress to send the measure to his desk ASAP.
But the Republican response was unusual and, some argued, disingenuous. They didn’t just lambaste the legislation for including tax increases on large corporations. They accused the Democrats of deceiving them.
The issue, as an outraged Sen. John Cornyn of Texas explained Thursday afternoon in a Senate floor speech, was the timing of the announcement. It came just hours after a high-profile bill allocating billions to subsidize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research had passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote. Cornyn and other Republicans claimed that Schumer had promised them that the reconciliation bill, as it’s known on Capitol Hill, was dead. That alleged promise was what convinced Republicans to move forward on the semiconductor bill, known as the CHIPS and Science Act.
“Senators Manchin and Schumer did not draft this 725-page bill in the four hours between the passage of the CHIPS Act and Senator Manchin’s press release,” Cornyn said. “They’ve been working on this the entire time when they told us it was off the table.”
Advocates say the CHIPS legislation will alleviate the supply chain crisis and increase America’s competitiveness with China. It passed the Senate on Wednesday 64 to 33, drawing the support of 17 Republicans. “How can we negotiate in good faith, compromise where necessary, and get things done together after the majority leader and the Senator from West Virginia pull a stunt like this?” Cornyn added. “To look you in the eye and tell you one thing and to do another is absolutely unforgivable.”
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Schumer’s office flatly denied having ever made such an agreement. “It was McConnell who tied the two together, not us,” a Schumer aide tells TIME, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Angry Republican Senators insisted that was not the case.
“They sucked Republican votes up like a Hoover Deluxe and then got their votes [on CHIPS] and then, bam, announced this new tax increase,” said Sen. John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, on Fox & Friends on Thursday morning. “We look like a bunch of—well, I’m not going to say what we look like.”
But veterans of the halls of Congress—Republican and Democrat alike—argue the GOP line of attack is hard to stomach, because Republicans had no reason to think Democrats would give up on advancing their priorities while still in power.
“I don’t buy that,” Neil Chatterjee, a former top aide to McConnell, tells TIME. “There has always been a sense among the Republican leadership that, in a 50-50 Senate, the Democratic senators have leverage. And there’s always been a sense that Manchin would ultimately deal because it’s in his interest to do so. If the House flips in November, his status as the decisive vote melts away. This is his best opportunity to get something done.”
And Manchin himself never said that the reconciliation bill that his party wanted so badly was officially dead, even when the negotiations seemed to collapse on July 14. “Even two weeks ago, he was maintaining that he wanted more data on inflation and he wasn’t walking away,” notes Sarah Binder, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution. In the weeks since, Manchin consulted former Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers for affirmation that the compromise bill he and Schumer were privately hammering out would not be inflationary. Summers, a former president of Harvard University who worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, has been one of the Democrats’ fiercest critics on economic policy in recent months.
One Democratic operative who spent years in the Senate thinks that Republicans aren’t so angry about being duped as they are embarrassed about being bested.
“Me thinks they doth protest too much,” Jim Manley, a former senior communications adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, tells TIME. “There’s a few more twists and turns to go here, but the fact is they got beat fair and square.”
Indeed, shortly after the Schumer-Manchin deal was announced, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the House minority leader, sent a memo to the Republican House caucus advising them all to vote against the measure as a protest against the Democrats. The CHIPS bill ultimately passed Thursday afternoon, with 24 Republicans joining nearly every Democrat voting for it. It was not immediately clear how many Republicans voted against the bill because of McCarthy’s urging, rather than their genuine opposition to it. Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.
“To think they got misled somehow is as pathetic as they come,” Manley said. “They can’t possibly believe this. They are being dragged into taking a series of no votes that I think they’re going to regret.” He also noted how Democrats could attack Republicans who voted against the CHIPS bill as choosing to protect Chinese interests. “The pro-CCP ads write themselves,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Passage of the Schumer-Manchin deal is far from assured. To pass out of the evenly split Senate, all 50 members that caucus with Democrats must back it, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to serve as the tie-breaker. But Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat who has previously opposed any kind of tax increase in the bill, has still not announced whether she will support the package. “We don’t have comment because Kyrsten’s reviewing the text and will need to review what comes out of the parliamentarian process,” a spokesperson for the senator tells TIME. (Schumer submitted the bill to the Senate parliamentarian Wednesday night, hoping to clear the bill for consideration next week, but it’s not clear if the review will take longer.)
Meanwhile, both sides are already strategizing how the reconciliation bill will give them an advantage with voters heading into November. Sources say that Republicans plan to use the tax increases in the reconciliation bill, which is formerly called the Inflation Reduction Act, against Democrats, arguing that they will make things worse at a time of record-high inflation.
“Democrats have already crushed American families with historic inflation,” McConnell tweeted on Thursday. “Now they want to pile on giant tax hikes that will hammer workers and kill many thousands of American jobs. First they killed your family’s budget. Now they want to kill your job too.”
Democrats, on the other hand, say that passing these bills will set up a strong contrast between them and Republicans. Since Biden took office, they have passed a suite of popular bills, including the economic recovery package and the infrastructure bill last year, and the first major gun safety measure in decades, which Biden signed last month. The CHIPS bill, and potentially, a historic federal government investment in combating climate change, will only add to their talking points.
Of course, legislation is never a done deal until a president signs it into law. And the Schumer-Manchin deal still has a long way to go before reaching Biden’s desk.
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