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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

Biden signs expansive health, climate, and tax law

President Biden signed the Democrats' landmark climate change and health care bill in the White House in Washington on Tuesday. From left, Senator Joe Manchin, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, House majority whip James Clyburn, Representative Frank Pallone, and Representative Kathy Castor watched.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Tuesday signed a long-awaited bill meant to reduce health costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and raise taxes on corporations and wealthy investors, capping more than a year of on-again, off-again negotiations and cementing his early economic legacy.

“This bill is the biggest step forward on climate ever,” Biden said, after drawing a standing ovation from a White House crowd filled largely with aides and allies.

The bill, which Democrats named the Inflation Reduction Act, invests $370 billion in spending and tax credits in low-emission forms of energy to fight climate change. It extends federal health-insurance subsidies, allows the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for seniors on Medicare, and is expected to reduce the federal budget deficit by about $300 billion over 10 years.

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The legislation would increase taxes by about $300 billion, largely by imposing new levies on big corporations. The law includes a new tax on certain corporate stock repurchases and a minimum tax on large firms that use deductions and other methods to reduce their tax bills. It also bolsters funding for the IRS in an effort to crack down on tax evasion and collect potentially hundreds of billions of dollars that are currently owed to the government but not paid by high earners and corporations.

It passed the House and Senate earlier this month entirely along party lines, as Democrats employed a legislative process known as reconciliation to bypass a Republican filibuster.

The bill represents the United States’ largest investment to fight climate change. It is aimed at helping the United States cut greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That would put the country within striking distance of Biden’s goal of cutting emissions at least 50 percent over that time period.

For months, it appeared Biden might not have any such bill to sign. Despite winning bipartisan victories on funding for infrastructure — including roads, bridges, water systems, and high-speed Internet — and an industrial policy bill meant to counter China, the president had been unable to bring his party together on a final bill to carry as much as possible of the rest of his economic agenda using only Democratic votes.

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But a last-hour compromise struck between Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, paved the way for the agreement to go forward. Manchin, Schumer, and other lawmakers joined Biden at the signing Tuesday.

NEW YORK TIMES

DHS IG rebuffs lawmakers on Secret Service testimony

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general has refused congressional requests for documents and staff testimony about the erasure of Secret Service communication related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, angering top Democrats who accuse him of unlawfully obstructing their investigation.

In an Aug. 8 letter disclosed Tuesday, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari told the leaders of the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees that his office will not comply with their requests for internal documents and sit-down interviews due to the ongoing criminal investigation into deleted Secret Service text messages.

In response, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney and Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson sent a letter Tuesday demanding Cuffari turn over documents and make his staff available to lawmakers or risk facing a potential congressional subpoena

“Your obstruction of the Committees’ investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress’s authority and your duties as an Inspector General,” Maloney and Thompson wrote in the letter.

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“If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we will have no choice but to consider alternate measures to ensure your compliance,” they wrote.

It’s just the latest back-and-forth over the text messages since mid-July, when Cuffari sent a letter to Congress disclosing that Secret Service text messages sent and received around Jan. 6, 2021, were deleted despite requests from Congress and federal investigators that they be preserved.

Since then, the two House committees say they have obtained evidence that shows the inspector general’s office first learned of the missing Secret Service text messages as part of its investigation into the attack on the Capitol, in May 2021.

They say e-mails between top Homeland Security IG officials show the agency — which oversees the Secret Service — decided to abandon efforts to recover those text messages in July 2021, nearly a year before they first informed Congress they were erased.

Lawmakers want answers to why watchdog officials chose “not to pursue critical information from the Secret Service at this point in this investigation” and only decided to renew their request to DHS for certain text messages more than four months later in December 2021.

The erasure of the messages has raised the prospect of lost evidence that could shed further light on President Donald Trump’s actions during the insurrection, particularly after testimony about his confrontation with security as he tried to join supporters at the Capitol. There are now two congressional probes into the Secret Service and the DHS handling of those communications.

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The missing texts are also at the center of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, of which Thompson is the chairman.

The Secret Service has since turned over a large number of records and documents to the committee investigating the Capitol insurrection, but only one text message between agents on the day before the attack and as a mob of rioters breached the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Secret Service has insisted that proper procedures were followed. Agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said last month that “the insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false.”

Maloney and Thompson told Cuffari that his “failure to comply with our outstanding requests lacks any legal justification and is unacceptable.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

First lady Jill Biden tests positive for COVID

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing “mild symptoms,” the White House announced Tuesday. President Biden continues to test negative after recently recovering from the virus but will wear a mask indoors for 10 days as a precaution.

The Bidens have been vacationing in South Carolina since Aug. 10, and the 71-year-old first lady began experiencing symptoms on Monday. Jill Biden, like her husband, has been twice-vaccinated and twice-boosted with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days.

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“Close contacts of the First Lady have been notified,” her communications director, Elizabeth Alexander, said in a statement “She is currently staying at a private residence in South Carolina and will return home after she receives two consecutive negative COVID tests.”

The president tested negative for the virus on Tuesday morning, the White House said but would be wearing a mask indoors for 10 days. He returned to Washington on Tuesday to sign Democrats’ landmark climate change and health care bill in the afternoon, before continuing to his home in Wilmington, Del.

He recovered from a rebound case of the virus on Aug. 7.

ASSOCIATED PRESS