WASHINGTON, Aug 6 (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate began debating a Democratic bill on Saturday to address key elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda – tackling climate change, lowering the cost of medicine for the elderly and energy, while companies and the the wealthy are forced to pay more taxes.
The debate began after the Senate voted 51-50 to move forward with the legislation. Vice President Kamala Harris broke a tie, with all 50 Republicans in opposition.
The Senate had to debate the bill for up to 20 hours before diving into a cumbersome, time-consuming amendment process called a “vote-a-rama.”
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Democrats and Republicans were poised to reject each other’s amendments as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer maneuvered to keep his 50-member caucus united behind a bill negotiated over months. If just one Democrat were to peel off, the entire effort would be doomed in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate. Read more
Earlier in the day, Senate parliamentarians ruled that most of the $430 billion health care bill could be passed with just a simple majority, bypassing a filibuster rule that requires 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation and enable Democrats to pass it over Republican objections.
Democrats hope the legislation will give their candidates a boost in the Nov. 8 midterm elections, where Biden’s party is in an uphill battle to maintain its narrow control of the Senate and House of Representatives. Democrats are pitching the legislation as a means to combat inflation, a top concern for American voters this year.
“Once passed, the bill will meet all of our goals: to fight climate change, lower health care costs, close tax loopholes abused by the wealthy and reduce the deficit,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor.
There are three main parts of the bill’s tax provisions: a minimum tax of 15% on corporations and closing loopholes that the wealthy can use to avoid paying taxes; tougher IRS enforcement; and a new excise tax on share buybacks.
The legislation has $430 billion in new spending, along with raising more than $740 billion in new revenue. Read more
Democrats have said that by 2030 the legislation would result in a 40% reduction in US carbon emissions, which are responsible for climate change.
The measure would also allow the Medicare government health insurance program for the elderly to begin negotiating in 2026 with the pharmaceutical industry on prices for a limited number of prescription drugs as a way to reduce costs. It would also place a cap of $2,000 per years on out-of-pocket costs for drugs under a Medicare drug program.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell attacked the provision involving drug price negotiation, comparing it to previous “price fixing” attempts by countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and the former Soviet Union.
“Their policy would create a world where many fewer new drugs and treatments are invented in the first place as companies cut back on R&D,” McConnell said in a speech referring to research and development.
While senators debated the policies embedded in the bill, its policy implications were also on display.
In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday, former President Donald Trump predicted fallout for Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, two key Democratic senators: “If this deal goes through, they’re both going to lose their next election.”
But Manchin and Sinema are not up for re-election until 2024, and many of the bill’s provisions are popular with voters.
The legislation is a scaled-down version of a far broader, more expensive measure that many Democrats on the party’s left had hoped to pass last year. That measure stalled when Manchin, a centrist, balked, complaining that it would exacerbate inflationary pressures.
The bill calls for billions of dollars to encourage the production of more electric vehicles and promote clean energy, although automakers say procurement rules would limit how many electric vehicles qualify for tax credits.
It would also put $4 billion in new federal drought relief funds, a provision that could help the re-election campaigns of Democratic senators Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Mark Kelly of Arizona.
A provision that was cut from the bill would have forced drug companies to refund money to both public and private health plans if drug prices rise faster than inflation.
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading progressive, has criticized the bill for not going far enough and said he planned to offer changes that would revive a number of social programs he pushed for last year, including expanding the number of prescription drugs for which Medicare could negotiate prices. on and deliver state-supported dental, vision and hearing aids.
His amendment was expected to fail.
Republicans have signaled they will offer amendments that touch on other issues, including controlling immigrants crossing the U.S. border with Mexico and strengthening policing to curb rising crime in U.S. cities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. the pandemic.
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Reporting by Richard Cowan and Makini Brice; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici, David Shepardson and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker
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