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‘Inflation Reduction Act’ passage not as simple as it appears for Dems: ‘It ain’t over till it’s over’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rested her chin on her arms. She leaned over the green, padded railing between the third base dugout and home plate at Nats Park. It was the third inning in the Congressional baseball game. But Democrats were already trailing 3-0.

I climbed up onto a chair from the dugout to interview the Speaker during the live broadcast of the game on Fox Sports. Pelosi is a serious baseball fan. She pulls for the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles. Her father helped lure the St. Louis Browns to the Charm City to become the O’s when he was mayor.

“Sometimes I coach. Sometimes I’m the umpire. I have my point of view,” said Pelosi.

GOP batters had just rocked House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman and pitcher Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. Things didn’t look good for the Democrats. However, ever the optimist, Pelosi offered up one of the National Pastime’s most celebrated quotes.

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“As Yogi Berra said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over,’” recounted the Speaker.

Berra knew of which he spoke. He managed the 1973 New York Mets. The “Amazins” stumbled into the playoffs with a pedestrian record of 82 and 79. However, the Mets sidetracked the fabled Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the National League Championship Series. That Mets team still holds the distinction of the team with the worst regular season record to ever make it to the World Series. The Mets then took the defending champion Oakland Athletics to seven games before losing the world title.

Besides the baseball game, Pelosi could have been speaking about the Democrats’ chances to hold control of Congress this fall. Things haven’t looked favorable for the party – especially retaining the House – in months.

But the Speaker could have also eluded to the Democrats’ one, final shot to pass some version of a social spending plan – finally securing the blessing of elusive Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.

Manchin withdrew from negotiations on “Build Back Better” as recently as July 18. Chances of an agreement at that point were as likely as someone throwing an “immaculate inning” at the Congressional baseball game.

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But like a lightning-like stroke of Roy Hobbs’ bat in the Robert Redford classic “The Natural,” Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., abruptly announced they had a “deal” on a $720 billion package. The bill would address inflation, fight climate change, lower the deficit, cut the price of prescription drugs – and maybe, just maybe, fight germs that may cause bad breath.

However, when invoking “it ain’t over till it’s over,” Pelosi may also have been intimating the challenge ahead to muscle the “Manchin bill” through the House and Senate.

Scoring a deal with Manchin may have solved one crucial part of the puzzle to pass a slimmed-down version of the Democrats’ touchstone legislative initiative. In fact, many Democrats may have thought that’s all they needed to wrap up the bill.

But, as Yogi might say, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has criticized Democrats' climate change policies.

Here’s why:

The Democrats aim to move this bill in the Senate this week – perhaps sticking around over the weekend if necessary. Then the House would return next week to sync up. The House left Friday for the “August recess.” But, as seemingly happens every year, Congress never really takes an “August recess.”

First, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough is scrubbing the bill to make sure it complies with the special rules of budget reconciliation. Budget reconciliation requires that provisions in the bill focus on taxes, spending policies and must be budget neutral over a ten-year period. Senators hope to know soon if it complies or if they need to make changes. The bill cannot include strict policy provisions. Most components must be fiscal in nature. You can’t use budget reconciliation for policy initiatives.

That’s partly why Democrats recalibrated the “title” of the bill to the “Inflation Reduction Act.” After all, “Build Back Better” became a toxic moniker over time.

This bill is not Build Back Better, per se. But includes some significant components of Build Back Better, dealing with reduced costs for drugs and environmental/climate initiatives.

The most recent iteration of Build Back Better was likely to cost in the range of $1.7 trillion or so. There had been a push to spend more than $2 trillion. At one point, the package was around $4 trillion. And, some liberals were pushing for as much as $6 trillion.

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But even a svelte version of this bill far from guarantees passage.

This is why it “ain’t over till it’s over.”

As we always say, it’s about the math. It’s about the math. It’s about the math.

It’s not yet clear if Democrats have the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., for this bill. Democrats can only pass the bill via budget reconciliation. Democrats can sidestep the filibuster if all 50 members vote yes – and have Vice President Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote.

But the support of all 50 members doesn’t yet assure passage.

The Senate needs all 50 Democrats healthy and present to vote.

There is no remote voting in the Senate – unlike the House. Manchin had COVID but just returned. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., had been out all summer due to two surgeries after a fall. But Leahy came back late last week. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tested positive for COVID and is out for now. And, Vice President Harris must remain healthy, too.

No one can cast a tie-breaking vote on behalf of the Vice President. Period.

Health may be the trickiest thing of all.

Democrats have only enjoyed a few, short windows since late March when all of their senators were healthy and available to cast votes on the floor due to positive tests.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., tested positive on March 22. He was back in a few days. But then. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., tested positive in early April. Warnock returned, presenting a short window in mid-April when Democrats had everyone around. Then Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tested positive on April 26. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., tested positive on May 1. Everyone was healthy for a time in mid-May until Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., tested positive on May 23. Democrats were good for most of June. Then Leahy fell at home and required surgery in late June. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. tested positive on June 30.

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Democrats haven’t had all 50 of their members present throughout all of July because of Leahy’s absence and six of their senators testing positive last month.

This is why “this ain’t over till it’s over.”

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, departs from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on October 28, 2021. 

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However, if Democrats are healthy, they may not need Harris to break the tie. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., just tested positive. So, conceivably Democrats could pass the bill 50-49 if they can move quickly.

Pelosi hopes to bring the House back to align with the Senate next week. But there’s a special election in Minnesota on August 9 to fill the seat of late Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn. The Democrats’ margin in the House is expected to shrink to a scant three seats if Republican Brad Finstad prevails in the special election for Hagedorn’s unexpired term.

So, it’s optimal if Democrats can move fast to get this through the House and Senate. But no one is banking on that.

Which is why, when it comes to the new Manchin bill, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”

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