Dems’ climate, energy, tax bill clears initial Senate hurdle

New York Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference Friday, August 5, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (AP Photo / Maryam Zuhaib)

New York Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference Friday, August 5, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo / Maryam Zuhaib)


Democrats pushed their election-year economic bill toward Senate approval early Sunday, triggering President Joe Biden’s massive collection of priorities on climate, energy, health and taxes that the party hopes will continue this week. By the end of 2014, the last Congress would be passed. ,

The equally divided Senate voted on Saturday to begin debate on the 51-50 legislation, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie and overcoming Republican opposition by unanimous vote. A shoddy version of earlier multitrillion-dollar measures that Democrats failed to pursue, the package has become a partisan battleground on inflation, gasoline prices and other issues that polls show are driving voters. .

The House, where Democrats have a low majority, could give final approval to the legislation next Friday.

“Now is the time for the American people to move forward with a big, bold package,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y. “This historic bill will reduce inflation, reduce costs, fight climate change. The time has come to take this country forward.”

Republicans said the measure would hurt the economy and make it harder for people to deal with skyrocketing inflation. He said the bill’s trade taxes would hurt job creation and drive up prices and urged voters to remember it in November.

Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said, “The best way to stop this tax and spending inflation madness is to fire some of the 50 so they can’t do this to your family.”

Non-partisan analysts have said the legislation, which Democrats have named the Inflation Reduction Act, will have little effect on the nation’s worst inflation fight in four decades. Still, it will take aim at issues the party has been yearning to address for years, including global warming, pharmaceutical costs, and taxing giant corporations.

Before the final passage, senators clambered through a nonstop pile of amendments called “vote-a-rama” that seemed certain to last hours.

In early votes, the chamber rejected an effort by progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to require Medicare to pay lower prescription drug prices paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Another, was defeated by Graham; It wipes out a fee that Democrats want to renew on barrels of oil that raises money for hazardous waste cleanup. Republicans said the Democrats’ proposal would boost petrol prices, a pity for voters after this summer’s record pump prices.

Earlier, the Senate lawmaker gave the revised 755-page bill a thumbs up to most Democrats. But Elizabeth McDonough, the arbiter of the chamber’s nonpartisan rules, said Democrats had to drop a key part of their plan to curb drug prices.

McDonough said Democrats violated Senate budget rules by imposing heavy fines on drug companies that boosted prices beyond inflation for drugs sold in the private insurance market. They were the bill’s main drug pricing protection for the roughly 180 million people whose health coverage comes from private insurance, either purchased through work or on their own.

Other pharmaceutical provisions were upheld, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate to pay for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, a longtime Democratic aspiration. Penalties on manufacturers for exceeding inflation will apply to drugs sold to Medicare, and there is a $2,000 annual out-of-pocket cap on drug costs and free vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries.

Democrats are using special procedures that would allow them to pass the measure without reaching the 60-vote majority that legislation often requires in the Senate. To do so, they must comply with regulations that include a requirement that provisions be primarily aimed at influencing the federal budget, not enforcing new policy.

The weekend’s debate captured a shocking 10 days in which Democrats resurrected top constituents of Biden’s agenda that seemed dead. In rapid-fire deals with two of the Democrats’ most unlikely senators — first West Virginia’s conservative Joe Manchin, then Arizona’s centrist Kirsten Cinema — Schumer devised a package that would give the party a feat against the backdrop of this fall’s congressional elections. .

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 big tax breaks for families with children. The current bill, barely more than a tenth of that size, narrowed heavily as Democratic leaders sought to win centrist Manchin and Cinema votes, yet it united one party to declare victory and show voters that they are solving their problems.

The bill provides spending and tax incentives in favor of progressives to buy electric vehicles and make buildings more energy efficient. But in a bow for Manchin, whose state is a major fossil fuel producer, there’s also money to reduce coal plant carbon emissions and language that requires the government to open up more federal land and water for oil drilling.

The expired subsidy that helps millions of people afford private insurance premiums will be extended for three years, and there is a provision of $4 billion to help Western states cope with drought. A new provision would create a $35 monthly cap for insulin, the costly diabetes drug, for Medicare and privately insured patients starting next year. The language seemed to be weakened or removed during the debate.

Reflecting Democrats’ calls for tax equity, some corporations would have a new 15% minimum tax with annual profits of more than $1 billion, but significantly less than the 21% corporate tax. Companies that buy back their own stock for those transactions would be taxed at 1% after Cinema refused to support higher taxes on hedge fund managers. The IRS budget will be pumped to bolster its tax collection.

While the final cost of the bill was still being determined, it would cost about $400 billion over 10 years to slow climate change, which analysts say will be the nation’s largest investment in that effort, and health care. But billions will be more. It would raise more than $700 billion in taxes and government drug cost savings, leaving nearly $300 billion for deficit reduction over the coming decade—a blip compared to that period’s estimated $16 trillion in budget shortfalls.


Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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