WASHINGTON — Senator Chuck Schumer huddled in his Capitol office Thursday night, awaiting a climactic meeting with Kirsten Sinema, who has worked hard to negotiate climate change, tax and A key adherent to the health care protocol, set the lights to flicker when the roar and flash of a powerful thunderstorm shook Washington.
Mr. Schumer and his aides were so close to an iconic legislative achievement to end a string of surprising victories that they glanced anxiously at each other, wondering if it was an ominous omen. The Senate’s 50-50 vote, a pandemic that keeps Democrats guessing who can vote, and the sheer difficulty of running a nearly unmanageable chamber have left them superstitious.
“I’ve been worried all my life, but I’m happily worried,” said Mr. Schumer, the New York Democrat and Majority Leader.
He needn’t worry. After a half-hour meeting, Mr. Schumer shook hands with Ms. Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, who agreed to support the legislation in exchange for some changes and some hometown drought relief. After a grueling night of meetings, the Senate approved the sweeping measure on Sunday, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tiebreaker. The House of Representatives is expected to follow suit later this week.
This is an amazing change of fate. Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Schumer, the Democratic agenda and the party’s chances of maintaining its Senate majority all seemed regrettable as last-minute talks on broad legislation seemed to collapse forever in West Virginia amid resistance from Sen. Joe State Democrat Manchin III.
Instead, Democrats not only picked up their biggest awards — partisan climate and tax legislation — but also capped off an exceptionally productive campaign for a Congress notoriously paralyzed. It includes the passage of the first bipartisan gun safety legislation in a generation, a massive microchip production and scientific research bill aimed at making the United States more competitive with China, and a vital veterans health care measure.
This string of successes is sweeter for Democrats as it brings political benefits, with Republicans making themselves look bad by changing positions and temporarily blocking a bill to help sick veterans in what appears to be a grumpy revival of the sudden resurgence climate agreement.
“We’ve had an extraordinary six weeks,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview, calling the climate, health and tax measures “the most comprehensive legislation affecting the American people in decades.”
It is far from certain that he will achieve this result. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Schumer is not known as a tactician or gifted lawmaker, and he has long struggled to produce, requiring every vote from ideologically mixed Democratic members. Even his allies wondered if he was too driven by the need to like or by his own personal political considerations to prevent a potential major challenge from the left to make the necessary callousness.
Mr. Schumer said the main requirement was endurance, not bare knuckles.
“It’s the toughest job I’ve ever done, with a 50-50 Senate, a big agenda and die-hard Republicans,” Mr. Schumer said. He cited the perseverance instilled in him by his father, who ran an extermination company and died last year, as a motivating factor. “Keep it up, keep it up. Look at all the pitfalls we’ve faced to get this job done.”
What’s in the Democrats’ climate and tax bills
a new proposal. A $369 billion climate and tax package proposed by Senate Democrats in July could have far-reaching consequences for the environment and the economy. Here are some key terms:
The swing on Capitol Hill is evident as Democrats allow themselves to hope that their legislative victory, combined with a national abortion fight they believe is changing the political landscape in their favor, could give them control of the Senate. This time, they think they’ve passed Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and minority leader, who has a history of successfully confusing Democrats.
“There’s excitement, anticipation and euphoria about the progress we’ve made over the past few weeks,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut.
Mr. Schumer won without deep White House involvement. President Biden — who ran for president on the basis of his extensive experience reaching bipartisan agreements in the Senate — has ceded much of the responsibility for setting the details to him. Final negotiations with Mr Manchin took place in almost total secrecy.
Republicans licked their wounds as they watched Schumer’s Democrats push through legislation that left Republicans powerless under special budget rules. Given that Mr. Biden’s popularity is still waning and the cost of consumer goods is rising, they’re not being sold as Democrats dig themselves out of a political loophole with a bill they’ve named the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The highest inflation rate in 40 years at 9.1% is hurting families who can’t afford a full tank of gas,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third Republican in the Senate. “The end of the month just arrived, and the money was spent before it was used up.”
But Democrats pointed to the appeal to voters that approving Medicare’s long-sought power to negotiate lower drug prices, and a general sense that Democrats are finally getting the job done on Capitol Hill. They like to remind voters of the prospect of Republicans voting against drug pricing measures and pressure Democrats to drop a proposal that would cap private insurers’ monthly costs for insulin at $35.
They also point to the climate change provision as a giant leap, although not as broad as Democrats had initially hoped before Mr Manchin forced the party to cut targets.
“This is a historic climate bill that wasn’t on the scoreboard a month ago,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and climate leader. “Senator Schumer, working with Manchin, has been able to come up with the key climate provisions we need. It’s not all we want, but it’s what we need to start trying to lead the rest of the world.”
Democrats also got some help from Republicans. Not only did the GI Bill blunders play a role in their hands, but Mr. McConnell threatened to block the microchip bill if Democrats continued to push the partisan atmosphere and tax legislation that incentivized Mr. Manchin to seek a compromise that backfired. .
“Any time you threaten a bill you support because it’s not making progress on other things, you’re in a bad situation,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat. It just looks bad. It’s crazy.”
While McConnell has been attacked from the left, he has also come under fire from the right for being too inclusive of Democrats on bills such as microchip measures and gun measures. But Mr. McConnell is also eyeing the midterms, knowing that Republicans need suburban voters who could be shut out by knee-jerk obstruction.
“Just because your administration is deeply divided doesn’t mean you’re going to do nothing,” McConnell said on Fox News last week. “Just because there’s a Democrat in the White House, I don’t think Republicans aren’t doing anything in the meantime. Anything that is good for the country should be done.”
That approach has bolstered Democrats at a pivotal moment, going into the heart of the campaign season.
“There’s a clear shift in momentum,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan and head of the party’s Senate campaign. “I think we’re in a very good position. We’re going into Labor Day in August and you look at where the numbers are and our candidates are doing well in a tough environment.”
After the recess, Mr. Schumer and other Democrats intend to push hard on their success, arranging politically charged votes on same-sex marriage, oil pricing and other issues they believe will show their edge and get Republicans on the spot.
But even as he is about to achieve a major achievement, Mr. Schumer is taking no chances. When the leader of an environmental advocacy group called him a hero after an event outside the Capitol on Thursday, Mr. Schumer warned him: “Not yet, not yet.”
Mr. Schumer said the results highlighted a key difference between him and Mr. McConnell, who is known for blocking and killing legislation rather than passing bills.
“He bragged about the cemetery,” Mr. Schumer said. “I want to be proud of what I’ve achieved, of doing things well — not not doing things well.”