Democratic Senate advances environment, health, and tax bills

The Senate passed a sweeping economic package designed by Democrats to combat climate change, address health-care costs, and raise taxes on large corporations on Sunday, marking a critical achievement for President Biden and his party as they seek to maintain their hold on Congress in the November midterm elections.

The Inflation Reduction Act was approved by the Senate by a vote of 51 to 50 along party lines, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote in the equally split chamber. Democrats utilized a special legislative procedure known as reconciliation to approve the bill over Republican opposition.

“It’s been a long, difficult, and twisting route, but at long last, at long last, we have arrived,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor as senators prepared to vote on final approval. “The Senate is creating history today, after more than a year of hard effort. I am convinced that the Inflation Reduction Act will be remembered as one of the most significant legislative achievements of the twenty-first century.”

The decision occurred during a marathon session that lasted all night and into Sunday afternoon, with Democrats applauding as members cast their final votes. Republicans presented a flurry of amendments that Democrats effectively batted down during almost 16 hours of discussion in a procedure known as a “vote-a-rama.”

Republicans were successful in blocking a measure that would have limited the cost of insulin at $35 per month for people insured by private health insurance plans. Democrats required 60 votes to ignore reconciliation rules and maintain that portion of the package, but it was defeated 57 to 43, with seven Republicans joining Democrats in favor.

Last week, House Democratic leaders announced that the lower house would return from its month-long break on Friday to debate the measure, which is anticipated to succeed.

Mr. Biden applauded Senate Democrats for enacting the bill, but said it took “many concessions.” He asked the House to pass the measure as soon as possible.

“Today, Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests, voting to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and everyday energy costs, as well as to reduce the deficit, while finally making the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share,” the president said in a statement. “I campaigned for president on the promise of making government work for working people again, and this law accomplishes just that — period.”

The package is the result of months of discussions over Mr. Biden’s domestic policy program, which looked to be on life support at times but was resurrected late last month with the surprising news of an agreement between Schumer and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat.

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 6: Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) talks with his employees on Capitol Hill in Washington on August 6, 2022.
GETTY IMAGES SHURAN HUANG FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
While the measure is significantly narrower than Mr. Biden’s broad $3.5 trillion plan from last year, it got the support of Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat whose support was critical.

Nonetheless, Democrats applaud the plan as their response to increasing consumer costs, as well as its roughly $400 billion commitment in combating climate change, the highest ever. The plan authorizes Medicare to bargain for lower prescription drug costs, a major Democratic aim that is estimated to save hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. It also extends enhanced health-care subsidies that were slated to expire at the end of the year and levies a 15% minimum tax on most firms with annual revenues of more than $1 billion.

As senators approached a final vote on Sunday, the corporation tax measure became a source of disagreement. Seven Democratic senators — Sinema, Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock, Catherine Cortez Masto, Maggie Hassan, Mark Kelly, and Jack Rosen — joined Republicans in supporting Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota’s amendment exempting some firms with private equity backing from the 15 percent minimum corporate tax rate. The amendment was approved by a vote of 57 to 43.

To promote sustainable energy, the bill contains tax breaks for purchasing electric cars as well as producing solar panels and wind turbines. It also includes discounts for households who purchase energy-efficient equipment and $4 billion in drought assistance.

Schumer praised the plan, calling it the “boldest climate package” in US history and a “game-changer” and “turning point.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

After Senate parliamentarian Elizbeth MacDonough evaluated it, one component of Democrats’ drug-pricing proposal — imposing penalties on drug makers that hiked prices beyond inflation on private insurance — was eliminated. Her acceptance of the remainder of the package, on the other hand, paved the way for the upper house to begin debating the measure.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Act would reduce the deficit by $102 billion over the next ten years. Republicans, on the other hand, maintained that the proposal would have no effect on inflation and will instead boost taxes while causing job losses.

Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, stated on “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Democrats’ drug price proposal would affect elderly, while the tax component will raise taxes on Americans.

“Why would you want to raise the expense of government? We’re raising taxes “He said.

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