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Sen. Schumer talks on what the Inflation Reduction Act means for Americans

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

And right now we're going to take stock of this weekend's big news in the Senate, which passed a massive package of climate, tax and health care measures known as the Inflation Reduction Act. This was a culmination of more than a year of negotiations and Democratic infighting - history-making legislation. We are joined now by NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, who's been following all of this. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

SUMMERS: So, Kelsey, just get us up to speed here. What is in this legislation?

SNELL: Well, this is a - as you mentioned - a climate package. It's also a tax package, and it also has health care elements in here. This is a really interesting bill because Democrats went into - just a few weeks ago - expecting it to be much narrower. They were anticipating only being able to manage some portions of it, and they were able to expand the scope of what they wanted to do after reaching a last-minute deal with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and move forward rather quickly once that deal came together.

SUMMERS: And we're joined now by someone at the center of all of these negotiations. That is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Senator.

CHUCK SCHUMER: Juana, Kelsey, good to be with both of you.

SUMMERS: We're glad to have you. Senator, this started out as a $3.5 trillion spending package, and it has now been scaled back to $700 billion. What have you learned in this process?

SCHUMER: Well, the thing I've learned, which has always been with me - and if I had to describe one word that helped me get this done - it was persistence. We reached a lot of dead ends. But, you know, my father passed away in November, and he's still here, sitting with me. He's taught me one thing. If you're doing the right thing and you persist, as he put it, God will reward you and you'll succeed. Well, we persisted. There were a lot of dead ends, but I kept at it. And now we have probably the most significant piece of legislation in decades, particularly on climate. It's the boldest climate legislation ever. To give you an example, you talked about the previous bill. It reduced the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere by 45% by 2030, a very bold goal. We keep it at 40%, which is huge. Our world is going to be a better place. We're going to reduce the scourge of global warming.

But in addition, two other things that had been sought in Congress for decades is happening. One, we are making the cost of prescription drugs a lot lower. For the first time, Medicare will be allowed to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies to bring down the price. We beat them, even though they're very powerful. And also in this bill, insulin for Medicare people will only be $35 a month. It had gone up to 6, $700 a month. Diabetics were suffering. And no one will pay more than $2,000 a year for prescription drugs. So people, particularly poorer people, middle-income people, who had to pay $500 a pill and didn't know how they were going to get these lifesaving medicines is there. One final - two final points - there's so much...

SUMMERS: OK.

SCHUMER: ...In this bill. I'll be quick. We closed tax loopholes for the first time. Big corporations, which now pay no taxes, will have to pay 15%. And furthermore, we've increased IRS audits only on people who make above 400,000 a year. Trump had said no auditing of rich people, and they've gotten...

SUMMERS: OK.

SCHUMER: ...Away with so much. Now that changes. With this, we reduced the deficit by $300 billion as well. So it's really significant. It took a lot of work, and it doesn't have everything everyone wants, including myself, but it was well worth it.

SUMMERS: All right, Senator, there is a lot to get to here, as you point out. I want to start with climate, which you brought up. That 40% that you talked about is still short of President Biden's goal of at least 50%. And according to a Princeton University research project, that's not a massive difference from what the U.S. is already on track to accomplish without this legislation.

SCHUMER: No, not true.

SUMMERS: Is progress on climate action too modest here?

SCHUMER: Well, we'd always like it bigger, but the Biden bill was 45%. Five percent of his 50 was administrative action, which will still be there. Ours is 40. So it's very, very, very close. And every expert on climate, even the most progressive, say this is massive. We have to start reducing the amount of carbon that goes into our atmosphere, and this does it far more than anything has ever done before. Second, the U.S. - I spoke to Secretary Kerry, John Kerry. He's going around the globe and trying to convince other countries to stop doing this. And they kept saying, U.S., you've done nothing. Why should we do something? He called me after this passed. He said, this is going to have a multiplier effect because now other countries will do the same.

SUMMERS: I want to talk now about the economic impact for Americans. You and members of your party point to things like extending Affordable Care Act subsidies and the prescription drug measures to lower health care costs. But as I understand it, the ACA subsidies keep costs where they currently are. The prescription drug measures don't start to kick in until 2025 at the soonest. Can you point to anything in this bill that lowers those costs immediately?

SCHUMER: Yes - insulin - the insulin costs go down much quicker than 2025. They start in the beginning of 2023, and that's probably the most widespread, expensive drug that people can't afford and need in the country. The ACA subsidies, where we made them much better - a year ago in AARP, they were going to go down this year right before - in October of 2022. They now stay good for three years, and they're expanded. So some people whose income was a little too high to get them will now be able to get them. So those are huge, huge changes. In addition, the negotiations start in 2026, but it's much sooner when people start paying less for certain drugs because of the $2,000 cap.

SUMMERS: Senator, you've mentioned insulin. There were not enough Republicans to support a $35 monthly cap, but there were some. And we're talking about a cost here, as you well know, that impacts millions of Americans. So I want to ask you, are there plans to revisit this with Republicans?

SCHUMER: Yes. First, let's get it clear. We do - we did win on anyone on Medicare. No one on Medicare will...

SUMMERS: Right.

SCHUMER: ...Pay more than $35. And that's a lot of people. But we had to get 60 votes for the non-Medicare people with insurance. We needed 60. We got all 50 Democrats. We did get seven Republicans. We're going to bring that back in the fall because there's going to be huge heat on Republicans for - let's remember this. Insulin was invented in 1920 - or discovered, I guess - in 1921 or '22. And the doctor who discovered it was a generous man. He charged $1 for the patent. So when the companies are charging $6- $700 for insulin, it's not because they have to recoup their costs of finding a new drug or whatever. It's just greed. And we have to get it reduced, and we will.

SUMMERS: Senator, I do have to ask you about the politics here. What does this bill - the process it took to pass it, the time - what does it say about the political climate in the Senate right now, especially as we head into November's midterm elections?

SCHUMER: Well, I think it's - you know, a lot of people are very worried that the Republican Party has become a MAGA Party. If you look at the Supreme Court decisions on choice and on guns and on climate, they're awful. If you look at the January 6 hearings, it shows, you know, Trump's influence on this party has moved it way to the right. But they kept wondering, can Democrats, who control things, admittedly by a very narrow margin - you know, a 50-50 Senate with a Joe - running from Joe Manchin to Bernie Sanders is not very easy to manage, and it's difficult job, although I keep persisting at it, as I said. But they said, could Democrats get anything done? In the last month, we have done six major things, not just this bill, which is the most significant, but the CHIPS bill, which will re-bring chip manufacturing back to the U.S., away from China and other places and reduce our costs of automobiles and appliances. We did the PACT bill - the biggest change for veterans in health care. Those who are exposed to toxins overseas will get health care.

SUMMERS: OK.

SCHUMER: We did the gun bill. So there's a lot we got done.

SUMMERS: All right.

SCHUMER: And I think people see that, and I think...

SUMMERS: OK.

SCHUMER: ...It will benefit us.

SUMMERS: All right. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, thank you so much.

SCHUMER: Thank you - nice to talk to you. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.