Dems’ climate, energy and tax bill clears Senate first hurdle

WASHINGTON — A divided Senate voted Saturday to begin debating the Democrats’ election year economic bill, putting President Joe Biden’s vast set of climate, energy, health and tax priorities past the first test as it moves through the parliament. Congress begins to move.

In a preview of the expected votes on a mountain of amendments, the united Democrats pushed the legislation through the evenly divided chamber 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie and overcoming unanimous Republican opposition. The package, a dwindled version of previous multi-billion dollar measures that Democrats failed to implement, has become a partisan battleground over inflation, gas prices and other issues polls show are driving voters.

The House, where Democrats have a slim majority, could give final approval next Friday when lawmakers plan to return to Washington.

The vote came after the Senate MP gave a thumbs-up to most of the Democrats’ revised 755-page bill. But Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s impartial arbitrator, said Democrats should drop a significant portion of their drug price reduction plan.

MacDonough said Democrats violated Senate budget rules through language that imposed hefty penalties on drug makers who inflate their private insurance market prices above inflation. Those were the bill’s main price protections for the roughly 180 million people whose health insurance comes from private insurance, either through work or purchased alone.

Other pharmaceutical provisions were left intact, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, an old Democratic ambition. Sanctions for manufacturers for exceeding inflation would apply to drugs sold to Medicare, and there is a $2,000 annual co-payment in drug costs and free vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries.

“The time is now to move forward with a big, bold package for the American people,” said Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. “This historic bill will reduce inflation, cut costs and fight climate change. It is time to move this nation forward.”

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Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats “misinterpret the American people’s outrage as a mandate for yet another reckless tax and spending wave.” He said Democrats “have already robbed American families through inflation once and now their solution is to rob American families a second time.”

Saturday’s vote capped an astonishing 10-day period in which Democrats were reviving key pieces of Biden’s agenda that appeared dead. In quick deals with the Democrats’ two most unpredictable senators — first West Virginia conservative Joe Manchin and then Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — Schumer put together a package that would give the party a feat against the backdrop of this fall’s congressional elections.

A White House statement said the legislation “would help address today’s most pressing economic challenges, strengthen our economy for decades to come and position the United States as the world’s leader in clean energy.”

Assuming Democrats fight a nonstop “vote-a-rama” of amendments — many designed by Republicans to derail the measure — they should be able to force the measure through the Senate.

“What will vote-a-rama be like? It’s going to be hell,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said of the approaching GOP amendments. He said that by backing the Democratic bill, Manchin and Sinema would “strengthen legislation that will make life harder for the average person” by raising energy costs with tax hikes and making it more difficult for companies to hire workers.

The bill provides spending and tax incentives favored by progressives for buying electric vehicles and making buildings more energy efficient. But in bow to Manchin, whose state is a leading fossil fuel producer, there is also money to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and language mandating the government to open up more federal land and water to oil drilling.

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Expiring subsidies that help millions of people pay private insurance premiums would be extended for three years, and there is $4 billion to help Western states fight the drought. A new provision would create a $35 monthly limit on insulin, the expensive diabetes medication, for Medicare and private insurance patients starting next year. It seemed possible that the language would be toned down or removed during the debate.

As a result of Democrats’ call for tax equality, there would be a new minimum tax of 15% for some companies that earn more than $1 billion a year but pay far less than the current 21% corporate tax rate. Companies that buy back their own shares would be taxed 1% on those transactions, traded in after Sinema refused to support higher taxes on managers of private equity firms and hedge fund managers. The IRS budget would be pumped up to bolster tax collections.

While the final cost of the bill is still being determined, it would spend a total of nearly $400 billion over 10 years to slow climate change, which analysts say would be the country’s largest investment in that effort, and billions more. to healthcare. It would bring in more than $700 billion in taxes and drug savings from the government, leaving about $300 billion in deficit reduction over the next decade — a blip compared to the $16 trillion projected in budget deficits over the period. .

Democrats use special procedures that allow them to pass the measure without getting the 60-vote majority that legislation often needs in the Senate.

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The parliamentarian decides whether parts of the legislation should be scrapped for violating those rules, including the requirement that provisions focus mainly on the federal budget and not on imposing new policies.


Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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