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Politics

Why Biden Talked Up the IRA Without Saying Its Name

A curious absence at the State of the Union.

President Biden.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Would the IRA by any other name be as sweet to voters?

It’s a valid question. President Biden’s final State of the Union address before the November election represented as good a chance as any for him to make his pitch to the American people — and he did so without ever saying the name of his most significant piece of legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act.

That might seem like a curious, or even downright disastrous, choice to make regarding a law that has struggled with branding. Though the actual contents of the law are popular with voters, some 63% of Americans say they’ve heard “not much” or “nothing” about the IRA, according to a 2023 Heatmap poll. And while the “Inflation Reduction Act” is only a little more descriptive than “H.R.5376,” the law has been called “misnamed” and “silly” from the start, in large part because it obscures all trace that it is, in actuality, the biggest climate law in U.S. history.

On Thursday night, Biden appeared to lean into that confusion rather than fight it. Or, perhaps more accurately, he seemed to double down on the avoidance inherent in the law’s very name. Far from giving up on touting the IRA’s accomplishments, Biden repeatedly boasted about “clean energy, advanced manufacturing,” and creating “tens of thousands of jobs here in America.” He further referred to a Stellantis plant in Belvidere, Illinois, that reopened partly due to a federal grant made possible by the IRA.

Meanwhile, other laws got shout-outs. He cited the CHIPS and Science Act — which rivals the Inflation Reduction Act for dryness. He credited the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for “46,000 new projects … across your communities.”

It was also notable that the economic upsides of the IRA were largely separated from Biden’s brief mention of “confronting the climate crisis” in the second half of his speech. Just as he’d paid rote attention to childhood literacy initiatives and veteran healthcare, Biden reiterated his established goals like “cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030,” “building and installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations,” and “conserving 30% of American lands and waters by 2030.” Absent were mentions of consumer incentives, like the IRA making heat pumps, solar panels, and EVs more accessible. Tellingly, his lone new climate announcement pertained to a rather minor piece in his more extensive agenda: Biden promised to triple the Climate Corps of young people working in clean energy “in a decade.”

This divorce of climate change from the economy in the speech is, in actuality, a little like what the name “Inflation Reduction Act” is functionally doing, too. The Biden administration has consistently moved its climate goals forward by not calling attention to the fact that they are climate goals. After all, any Republicans who voted against something called the “Inflation Reduction Act” could be hammered for being — what, pro-inflation?! At the same time, using the State of the Union to draw attention to specific economic accomplishments that just so happen to be in the clean energy space allows Biden to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump on the economy — an issue voters are more concerned about this election cycle than the climate — without letting such a talking point be dismissed as green liberal woo-woo.

Biden can’t avoid talking about climate directly, of course. It’s an issue that is important to young voters, and some progressives worry he’s losing their support over his approval of the Willow oil drilling project. No wonder, then, that the most prominent part of the State of the Union’s climate section centered on a program explicitly designed to create jobs for 18- to 35-year-olds.

This isn’t a matter of cynicism — it’s messaging. Admittedly, that is a bit ironic, given that the long-standing criticism of the IRA is that no one knows what it is. Still, Biden is embracing the very spirit of the name of the Inflation Reduction Act by never saying the words.

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Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

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