Veterans, military family members and advocates call for Senate Republicans to change their votes on a bill designed to help millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service, on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Aug. 1, 2021. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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Shock erupted last week when Congress passed a vital economic law on computer chips and learned that an important, but long stalled climate and health care bill negotiated by senators Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer could be next to reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

Then the truly troubling reaction by many congressional Republicans to hearing about the Manchin-Schumer plan was to act like truculent toddlers, opposing legislation they previously backed.

What triggered this Republican tantrum?

More than a distaste for specific parts of the bill, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, drew GOP ire. Instead, they were upset because they, like everyone else, were surprised a deal had been reached after Manchin weeks ago said he would not support a larger, similar one.

According to  Sen. Susan Collins, the timing of the Manchin-Schumer plan “could not have been worse and it came totally out of the blue.” “After we just had worked together successfully on gun safety legislation, on the CHIPs bill, it was a very unfortunate move that destroys the many bipartisan efforts that are under way,” Collins said.

While Collins also referenced harming an effort to protect marriage rights for same-sex couples, Sen. John Cornyn tweeted that passing the PACT Act, a bill protecting veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxins, “would not have been delayed” if Schumer had acted differently.

As the Military Times put it, “the comprehensive toxic exposure legislation veterans advocates expected to pass” was an “unexpected casualty” of a “surprise deal on health care and environmental policies announced by Senate Democratic leaders.”

To be sure, the content of the Inflation Reduction Act also rankled Republicans. That’s because it includes policies, while popular in the public and backed by the narrow Democratic Senate majority, are widely opposed by the GOP caucus.

Over 80 percent of Americans back Medicare being able to negotiate prescription prices. This bill would lower patients’ drug costs and the government would spend less. Because cutting drug costs is anti-inflationary, it made sense to include this in the Inflation Reduction Act. Same for preventing health care costs from rising for people covered by the Affordable Care Act.

However, Republican office-holders have mostly opposed the federal government doing more on health care.

And there are other parts of the Inflation Reduction Act they don’t like.

Perhaps the biggest game-changer in this legislation involves climate change. After a summer of severe heat waves and floods, taking action to prevent further global warming is critical.

The act’s climate provisions are very significant and include support for energy production of all sorts, electric vehicles, heat pumps and insulation. These would also reduce costs to consumers.

Meanwhile most Republican office-holders have been indifferent to or hostile toward tackling the climate crisis.

Finally, the act includes tax provisions that — while very popular among Americans — are  anathema to most Republicans. As Biden promised during the 2020 campaign, no one who earns under $400,000 a year would have their taxes go up. Instead, very large corporations would have to pay 15 percent at a minimum on their earnings, the IRS could better audit the wealthy and wealthy investors would have to pay more on “carried interest.” About 40% of these revenues would go to deficit reduction.

Needless to say, Republicans do not support raising taxes on the rich.

In fact, when Donald Trump was in office, nearly all Republicans (including now-candidate Bruce Poliquin) voted to cut taxes largely on the wealthy and to repeal the Affordable Care Act — policies opposite of what Manchin and Schumer negotiated on taxes and health care.

What comes next?

Regarding the bill’s content, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema may want changes, although she probably won’t scuttle the whole thing.

Feeling the political heat, this week the PACT Act will likely get enough GOP votes to clear the Senate. As Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, declared, it was “shocking … that so many senators would literally be willing to play with veterans’ lives so openly like this.”

Indeed, such political pettiness is dreadful, particularly when the policies matter so much.

Senate Republicans may not like it that Democrats can pass legislation without them, but it really should not be too much to expect elected officials to act less like toddlers and more like adults.

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Amy Fried, Opinion columnist

Amy Fried has written about the media and politics, women in politics, Maine and American political culture, and political activism, and works to create change through the Rising Tide Center. A political...