The month of August is a slow one in Washington, as both houses of Congress get a recess to go back to their home states and take a break.
The House has already left but the Senate is still in session. Before senators leave town, they will wrap up work on the Inflation Reduction Act, a massive spending deal aimed at addressing climate change, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and fighting inflation.
Once the Senate completes work on the legislation, it will have another feather in its cap in what appears to be a rather productive year of work.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest things the Senate has done this year.
Confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court
In April, the Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
The confirmation process mirrored those of President Trump’s three picks for justices in its bitter partisanship and contentiousness. Jackson fielded questions from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding topics ranging from critical race theory to child pornography to the definition of the word "woman."
Despite that, the final vote ended up being bipartisan. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) joined all 50 members of the Democratic caucus to confirm Jackson to a lifetime appointment.
She succeeded Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she clerked at the start of her legal career, on the court when he officially stepped down at the end of June. In her first term beginning in October, she will hear cases on issues such as affirmative action, voting rights, and religious freedom.
Bipartisan Safer Communities Act
In one of the more remarkable legislative achievements of the year, the Senate passed the biggest gun reform legislation in decades on a bipartisan basis. It also received bipartisan support in the House.
President Biden signed the bill into law in late June, and it includes a bevy of provisions. Among the most touted is funding for various crisis intervention programs at the state level, including red-flag laws, which allow a judge to temporarily take away a person’s guns if they are deemed to be a danger to themself or others.
In addition, it closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” Before the bill had been signed, federal law did prevent people convicted of domestic violence or subject to domestic violence restraining orders from purchasing a gun. But there was a catch: It only applied if the person in question had been married to the victim, lived with the victim, or had a child with them.
The clarification left an entire category of domestic, intimate partners who aren’t any of those things but still are abusers able to obtain guns, hence the moniker, boyfriend loophole.
The bill expanded restrictions to disqualify anyone found guilty of a domestic violence charge in a romantic relationship, regardless of marital status, from purchasing a gun. The restrictions would last for five years, after which the right to own a gun is restored if no additional violent crimes take place.
It also includes funding for community mental health services, telehealth, and school-based safety and mental health resources.
Honoring Our PACT Act
Last week, the Senate passed a bill providing $280 billion for veterans' health programs and specifically targeting veterans fighting long-term diseases they believe are linked to exposure to toxic “burn pits” used to burn waste during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill passed 86-11, the usual broad and bipartisan majority that military-related bills tend to draw. But it came with slight difficulty.
Republicans initially blocked consideration of the bill after Democrats announced the Inflation Reduction Act. They pinned their objections to a “gimmick” in the funding for the bill.
But they relented after several days of relentless criticism from veterans groups and comedian Jon Stewart, who has championed this effort and previous efforts to secure funding for 9/11 first responders dealing with illnesses caused by their exposure to the World Trade Center wreckage.
The CHIPS and Science Bill
This bill has had many names. The Endless Frontier Act. The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. The America COMPETES Act. CHIPS. CHIPS-plus.
But after many name changes and many iterations of the bill’s contents, the Senate passed the CHIPS and Science bill, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called it just before passage late last month. This was also a bipartisan bill, passing 64-33.
The main feature of the legislation is $52 billion in subsidies for domestic semiconductor manufacturers. The pandemic and subsequent supply chain disruptions put into stark view the U.S. reliance on foreign supply chains for the all-important computer chips, prompting the year-long push for a solution in Congress.
President Biden is set to sign the legislation into law on Tuesday.
Approved NATO Membership for Sweden and Finland
On Wednesday, the Senate gave overwhelmingly bipartisan approval to Finland and Sweden’s requests to join NATO. The two countries have been neutral for years, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted renewed unity in Europe and changed the calculus of the two Scandinavian nations.
The vote was 95-1, with only Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) voting against. Approval from the Senate means the U.S. has done its part to admit Finland and Sweden. All NATO member nations must do the same before they can join. The U.S. became the 23rd out of the total 30 needed to have done so.
"This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan U.S. commitment to NATO, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow," Biden said in a statement Wednesday evening.
The Senate has also approved $54 billion in aid to Ukraine since the war began.