WASHINGTON — It was a busy year for Congress, which passed a slew of consequential bills, most of which enjoyed support from both parties. And it may be the high-water mark of Joe Biden’s presidency from a legislative standpoint, with Republicans poised to take over the House of Representatives early in 2023.
As two years of full Democratic control come to an end, here are five of the most significant bills passed in 2022.
A sweeping climate, health and tax bill
The Inflation Reduction Act represents the largest attempt in U.S. history to combat climate change with a $369 billion package of clean-energy funding covering cars and homes and businesses. It also aims to curb methane emissions and sets aside money for communities heavily affected by air pollution and other climate-related issues.
The legislation contains new measures to lower prescription drug costs, including a provision that empowers Medicare to negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical industry, a new $2,000 yearly cap on out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions through Medicare, and a $35 monthly insulin cap for Medicare beneficiaries. It’s funded by a potpourri of new taxes, including a 15% corporate minimum tax.
There’s more funding for IRS tax collection included in the bill, too.
It passed with the slimmest of margins — a vote of 51-50 in the Senate, winning over every Democratic senator and requiring Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie, and 220-207 in the House. Not a single Republican voted for it.
A new election law aimed at preventing another Jan. 6
The Electoral Count Reform Act will revise the 1887 Electoral Count Act to make clear the vice president cannot discount electoral votes. It’ll raise the threshold for objections from one member of each the House and Senate to one-fifth of both chambers. It’ll also prevent competing slates of electors and simplify state certification with mechanisms to assure the rightful winner is certified.
The bipartisan package, led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is aimed at closing gaps in federal law that former President Donald Trump and his allies sought to exploit to stay in power after losing the 2020 election. It’s designed to protect U.S. elections going forward and prevent another Jan. 6.
The toughest new gun law in nearly 30 years
The Safer Communities Act — a bipartisan bill led by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas — include grants for states to pass “red flag” laws designed to block people who could pose a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or owning a firearm.
It beefs up background checks of 18- to 21-year-olds, opening the door to examining juvenile records. It attempts to close the “boyfriend loophole” by keeping firearms away from dating partners who are convicted of abuse. The law also clarifies which gun sellers are required to register as licensees and thus forced to conduct background checks on potential buyers.
A law to improve U.S. competition with China
The CHIPS and Science Act is both a major piece of legislation and a message that the U.S. doesn’t intend to fall behind China when it comes to global competitiveness.
The law — which grew out of a bill first negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind. — makes a whopping $280 billion investment in U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, research and development, and tax breaks for the production of chips.
The White House and congressional defenders have described it as an essential step to revitalizing the struggling U.S. manufacturing industry and making a downpayment in the American workforce. It’s another bipartisan success story for this Congress, representing a rare point of strong consensus between the two parties: that the U.S. must combat China’s rising influence on the world stage.
Enshrining same-sex marriage
One of the final acts of the Democratic-controlled Congress was to pass a law that codifies federal protections for marriages between same-sex and interracial couples.
The Respect for Marriage Act — led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay American elected to the Senate — forces the federal government to recognize legally performed same-sex marriages and to ensure couples full benefits “regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.” It will not require states to grant marriage licenses against state law, but same-sex couples will enjoy the benefits if they get married in a different state.
The legislation came about after the new 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court voted last summer to overturn Roe v. Wade, prompting critics to fear that it could do the same to same-sex marriage rights. The new law provides a backstop against that possibility.
It reflects growing U.S. support for legal same-sex marriage and was a celebratory moment for Biden a decade after he upstaged his then-boss, President Barack Obama, by jumping out ahead of him to declare his support for same sex marriage as vice president.