Recapping Democrats breakthrough summer on Capitol Hill: Climate, gun violence and more

The flurry of activity is tempered by a looming political reality: the midterms.

August 9, 2022, 11:13 AM

The Senate on Sunday narrowly approved a $700 billion-plus tax, climate and health care-pricing bill, capping an unusually jam-packed summer on Capitol Hill and marking another win for Democrats' fragile congressional majorities before they face a competitive midterm cycle with the GOP eager to retake control.

Over the past 12 weeks, Democrats (joined with some Republicans) have pieced together passage on a slate of legislation for veterans' health care, the tech manufacturing industry, gun violence prevention and, finally, a social spending bill they have been working on in some form since President Joe Biden took office last year.

The Senate also approved Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

The flurry of activity is tempered by a looming political reality: Despite Democratic achievements, multiple of which were passed with bipartisan majorities, Biden's approval ratings remain underwater on a number of issues that voters say are top of mind, including the economy and historically high inflation.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to the media following the 51-50 vote passing of the "Inflation Reduction Act of 2022" on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Aug. 7, 2022.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to the media following the 51-50 vote passing of the "Inflation Reduction Act of 2022" on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Aug. 7, 2022.
Ken Cedeno/Reuters

As Democrats prepare to face voters in November, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer insisted that Americans will soon begin to see the effects of the Inflation Reduction Act -- the tax, health and climate bill passed Sunday -- and other legislation, priorities that have proven popular in recent polling.

Having left COVID-19 isolation over the weekend, Biden will sign the PACT and CHIPS acts -- for veterans and computer chip manufacturing, respectively -- on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the White House. The House will take up the IRA on Friday before sending it to Biden's desk for his signature.

Here's an overview of the notable measures Congress has passed this summer.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden talks to reporters while boarding Air Force One from Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., Aug. 8, 2022.
President Joe Biden talks to reporters while boarding Air Force One from Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del., Aug. 8, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The IRA

Democrats' latest reconciliation spending bill raises taxes on large corporations and the wealthy, allows Medicare to negotiate down some prescription drug costs, extends Affordable Care Act subsidies to make health insurance cheaper, makes major investments in combating climate change and opens millions of acres in federal property to oil and gas drilling, among other things, while cutting hundreds of millions from the federal deficit.

The IRA passed along party lines, 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. Its passage comes off the heels of turbulent negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and then the addition of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; both Manchin and Sinema are centrists in the Democratic caucus whose approval was key in the divided Senate.

The legislation's tax provisions, prescription drug-pricing reform, as well as boosted IRS tax enforcement measures, are anticipated to raise an estimated revenue of $739 billion -- $300 billion of which Democrats say would go toward reducing the deficit.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would have a minimal affect on high inflation in the short-term but would reduce federal budget deficits by $102 billion over 10 years.

"It's been a long tough and winding road, at last we've arrived," Schumer said on Sunday. "Our bill reduces inflation, lowers costs, creates millions of manufacturing jobs, enhances our energy security and is the boldest climate action in US history."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who led Republicans in uniform opposition to the IRA, took another view: "Democrats' policies have torn down the savings, the stability, and the lifestyles that families worked and sacrificed for years to build up. The effect of this one-party government has been an economic assault on the American middle class," he said in a statement.

PHOTO: In this March 15, 2022, file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin talks with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the White House campus in Washington, D.C.
In this March 15, 2022, file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin talks with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the White House campus in Washington, D.C.
Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE

PACT

PACT expedites care and disability payments to veterans related to illnesses caused by toxic exposure from so-called "burn pits" during their service.

The proposal initially passed the Senate earlier this year. But after a small fix in the House required the bill to be voted on again, 26 Republican senators then changed their votes and blocked swift passage last week, objecting to a so-called "budget gimmick" they argued could be exploited by Democrats.

Amid outcry from veterans' advocates, including comedian Jon Stewart, the Senate took up PACT again.

A final 86-11 vote on the passage of the bill came Tuesday, after long hours of emotional lobbying.

"Every so often folks, America lives up to its ideals, and those are days that we savor," Schumer said at a press conference outside the Senate after the vote.

CHIPS

A bipartisan group in the House passed a bill in late July that boosts the domestic production of crucial semiconductor -- computer -- chips, along with funding the nation's science and technology industries with additional research and development.

CHIPS cleared the chamber in a 243-187 vote (with one "present" vote) despite late-hour pushes from GOP leadership against the legislation Twenty-four Republicans joined Democrats in backing the measure out of what would have been additional GOP support, curbed because of the surprise development that Schumer and Manchin had brokered a deal on the IRA, despite many conservatives believing Manchin had killed hopes of a party-line reconciliation bill.

Supporters of the $280 billion proposal highlight the roughly $52 billion it provides to incentivize the creation of semiconductor facilities, increasing American competitiveness in an industry where countries like China dominate.

There's a nationwide shortage of the needed computer chips, which has caused production delays, stalling industries from automotive to medical and spurring already-punishing inflation rates.

Gun control

In late June, Biden signed the first major piece of federal gun legislation in almost 30 years, after Congress swiftly passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

The Senate approved the anti-gun violence package by a vote of 65-33, including the entire Democratic caucus and 15 Republicans like Minority Leader McConnell.

A group of senators began crafting the legislation in the aftermath of the May mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers.

But the law doesn't go as far as Democrats -- and Biden -- wanted, excluding measures such as universal background checks and a reinstating a federal ban on assault-style weapons (as well as banning high-capacity magazines). But it does support the implementation of so-called "red flag" laws to remove firearms from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, as well as other violence prevention programs.

It also provides funding for a variety of programs aimed at shoring up the nation's mental health apparatus and securing schools.

"At a time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential," Biden has said.

ABC News' Alliison Pecorin, Alexandra Hutzler and Trish Turner contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events