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Forget Build Back Better — there's a new bill in town


And this week, forget about Build Back Better. There's a new bill in town. It's called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. And if it becomes law, Democrats say it would reduce the deficit, cut federal spending on prescription drugs and provide hundreds of billions of dollars to help the country address climate change. The package contains the most substantial climate legislation in U.S. history. And we're joined now by Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: Oh, of course, Scott. Glad to be with you.

SIMON: What kind of action do you think this bill would take on the climate?

HICKENLOOPER: Oh, this is without question the most significant climate rescue initiative in the history of the world. No other country has made this kind of a commitment to really taking climate rescue and accelerating it quickly.

SIMON: What would it do, what specific points in the legislation?

HICKENLOOPER: This is $369 billion towards addressing climate change - have over $100 billion of clean energy tax credits. It's going to put $10 billion towards helping the households of working people - allow them to winterize their homes and put in things like heat pumps that are greener and more sustainable for the planet. It's going to allow them to put in special stoves that are more efficient and use a lot less energy. All this stuff goes towards this constant effort to, how are we going to be able to address climate change in a way that really succeeds? And this reduces our carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. It makes a huge, huge, huge jump in terms of achieving President Biden's goals.

SIMON: Some environmental issues, I don't have to tell you - don't like some of the tradeoffs - for example, the requirement for the Interior Department to offer at least 2 million acres a year for offshore oil and gas leases. How do you handle that?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think what we need to do is go to a clean energy transition so we won't need that oil and gas. Like any negotiated bill, this is always going to be a compromise. In the end, you know, Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer negotiated this bill for a long time. And I trust both of them, as two very good negotiators, that it was the best bill they could come up with.

SIMON: I don't have to tell you how much Senator Manchin was assailed by people in your own party as a tool of corporate interests, as an inauthentic Democrat. What was the key to working with him?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, Joe Manchin really never wavered. He talked about inflation back in January. He said it was a primary concern when we began seeing spikes in inflation numbers several months ago. He got very cautious. A lot of what various senators worked on was trying to get modeling done that showed there is not inflation if we do these things. And indeed, there's an argument that we always underestimate how rapidly innovations in energy use are going to bring costs down. I mean, solar now is 10 times lower - it's one-tenth the cost it was 10 years ago. Wind energy is one-fifth the cost. These are huge changes, and they will only increase the level at which we are lowering costs for everybody in this country and, at the same time, making sure that we don't roast our planet.

SIMON: Can you win the vote in the Senate? You need every Democratic vote, assuming you won't get a Republican one - Senator Sinema of Arizona.

HICKENLOOPER: I think so. I have not talked to Senator Sinema. And she cares deeply about some of the tax measures that have been discussed. But again, she's a good, consistent negotiator, just like Joe Manchin. I mean, people criticize Joe Manchin, but he always talked about inflation. He always talked about wanting to make sure that working people didn't have to pay $5 or $6 a gallon for gasoline. All these things should be addressed by us going faster into clean energy so that we use less of that. And I think Senator Sinema - I think all the progressives in the Senate are going to see that the benefits of this initiative are going to far outweigh whatever the costs are.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you about the cost - $433 billion in this package. Congress has already passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. The U.S. national debt is already more than $30 trillion. But how do you handle the argument that Democrats are spending money the U.S. doesn't have?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, that's one of the things that Joe Manchin insisted on, was that we have $300 billion of deficit reduction. And every other part of this bill is paid for, allowing Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs. And it ramps up a little slowly at first, but this will ultimately save a couple hundred billion dollars over 10 years and ultimately lower costs for prescription drugs for all Americans.

SIMON: But also have to pass the house - and there are very thin Democratic majority there, and a few members of the House are already voicing their concern that, for one thing, child tax credits aren't in the bill - and lifting of the $10,000 cap on state and local deductions. How do you respond to that?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think that the cap on state and local deductions was something Joe Manchin - he wants to fight for tax breaks for lower-income families, the people that he represents in West Virginia who need the most help. And that cap was really lowering taxes for the wealthiest, if you really look at who benefits from it.

SIMON: If I might put it this way, was that just a concession you had to make to get his vote?

HICKENLOOPER: You know, in the end, Joe Manchin - and this is because he is a very conservative Democrat, but he is a Democrat. Again, if he were to switch and decide he wants to be a Republican - and I'm sure the Republicans have made entreaties to him many times - but we would lose the majority in the Senate if he switched. He could be the chair of whatever committee he wanted to. I'm sure the Republicans would give him anything. We would lose our committee chairs. We would dramatically slow down the approval of judicial appointments, of appointments to the cabinet.

The fact is that Joe Manchin - despite the fact that he is more conservative than pretty much any Democrat in the Senate, he stays with it because he is a Democrat. And you can tell just from the way he negotiated this that he cares deeply about working people. He did not support the child tax credits. He felt that that was too expensive and that we didn't get enough benefit for the cost. By being the most conservative, he's that last vote. So in the end, you've got to get him to sign off on something, on any of these things.

SIMON: And that was just something you had to do.

HICKENLOOPER: I think that was the only way we could get a bill done. And many people - it angers many people. It frustrates many people. But it's the reality of politics in Congress right now, that he and Kyrsten Sinema have a great deal of leverage because they are at a - you know, a much more conservative side of the party in many issues - not in all issues. In some issues, they're both - they're two of the most liberal Democrats. But in many issues, they're on the conservative edge.

SIMON: Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado. Thanks so much for being with us.

HICKENLOOPER: You bet. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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