WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats pushed their election-year economic bill through the Senate Sunday morning, kicking off President Joe Biden’s sprawling collection of climate, energy, health and tax priorities on a path that the party hopes to finish in the final approval of Congress by the end of this week.
The evenly divided Senate voted Saturday to begin debating the legislation 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie and overcoming unanimous Republican opposition. A scaled-down version of earlier multibillion-dollar measures that Democrats failed to advance, the package has become a partisan battleground over inflation, gas prices and other issues that polls show are driving voters.
The House, where Democrats have a slim majority, could give final approval to the legislation next Friday.
“Now is the time to move forward with a big, bold package for the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. “This landmark bill will reduce inflation, it will reduce costs, it will combat climate change. It’s time to move this nation forward.”
Republicans said the measure would hurt the economy and make it harder for people to cope with soaring inflation. They said the bill’s business taxes would hurt job creation and force prices up and urged voters to remember that in November.
“The best way to stop this tax and crazy inflationary spending is to fire some of the 50 so they don’t keep doing this to their family.” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
Nonpartisan analysts have said the legislation, which Democrats called the Inflation Reduction Act, would have little impact on the country’s worst inflation in four decades. Still, it would take aim at issues the party has longed to address for years, including global warming, pharmaceutical costs and taxes on huge corporations.
Before reaching final approval, senators reviewed a relentless stack of amendments called “vote-a-rama” that seemed sure to last for hours.
In early votes, the chamber rejected an effort by progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to require Medicare to pay the same lower prescription drug prices as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Another, by Graham, was defeated; he would have scrapped a fee Democrats want to renew for barrels of oil that raises money for hazardous waste cleanup. Republicans said the Democrats’ proposal would raise gas prices, a sore point for voters after record gas station prices this summer.
Earlier, the Senate MP approved a majority of the Democrats’ revised 755-page bill. But Elizabeth MacDonough, the nonpartisan House rules arbiter, said Democrats had to drop an important part of their plan to cut drug prices.
MacDonough said Democrats violated Senate budget rules with language that imposes heavy penalties on pharmaceutical companies that raise prices beyond inflation for drugs sold in the private insurance market. Those were the bill’s main drug price protections for the estimated 180 million people whose health coverage comes from private insurance, either through work or purchased on their own.
Other pharmaceutical provisions remained intact, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly beneficiaries, a longtime Democratic aspiration. Manufacturer penalties for exceeding inflation would apply to drugs sold to Medicare, and there is an annual out-of-pocket cap of $2,000 on drug costs and free vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries.
Democrats are using special procedures that would allow them to pass the measure without having to reach the 60-vote majority that legislation typically needs in the Senate. To do so, they must abide by rules that include a requirement that provisions be primarily aimed at affecting the federal budget, not imposing new policy.
The weekend debate capped a stunning 10-day turnaround in which Democrats resurrected major components of Biden’s agenda that seemed dead. In quick deals with the Democrats’ two most unpredictable senators, first conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginia, then centrist Arizona Kyrsten Sinema, Schumer put together a package that would give the party a win in the context of this congressional election. fall.
The measure is a shadow of Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal, which funded a rainbow of progressive dreams including paid family leave, universal preschool, child care and bigger tax breaks for families with children. The current bill, just over a tenth that size, became much more limited as Democratic leaders sought to win votes from centrists Manchin and Sinema, but it has unified a party eager to declare victory. and show voters that they are addressing their issues.
The bill offers tax and spending incentives favored by progressives to buy electric vehicles and make buildings more energy efficient. But in a bow to Manchin, whose state is a leading producer of fossil fuels, there is also money to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants and language that requires the government to open up more federal land and waters to oil drilling. .
Expired subsidies that help millions pay private insurance premiums would be extended for three years, and there is $4 billion to help Western states fight drought. A new provision would create a $35 monthly cap on insulin, the expensive diabetes drug, for Medicare and private insurance patients starting next year. It seemed possible that the language could be weakened or removed during the debate.
Reflecting Democrats’ calls for tax fairness, there would be a new 15% minimum tax for some corporations with annual profits greater than $1 billion but paying well below the 21% corporate tax. Companies that buy back their own shares would pay a 1% tax on those transactions, after Sinema refused to back higher taxes on hedge fund managers. The IRS budget would be inflated to strengthen its tax collection.
While the bill’s final costs were still being determined, it would spend nearly $400 billion over 10 years to curb climate change, which analysts said would be the nation’s largest investment in that effort, and thousands millions more in health care. It would raise more than $700 billion in taxes and drug cost savings from the government, leaving about $300 billion for deficit reduction over the next decade, a blip compared to the projected budget deficit. of 16 billion dollars for that period.