The Democrats’ big climate, health and tax package clears a major obstacle in the Senate

Written by Javed Iqbal

WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Saturday to advance a sweeping climate and economic bill with the support of all 50 Democrats, bringing longstanding elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda one step closer to reality.

The procedural vote on the filibuster-proof package was 51-50, with all Republicans opposing the motion to begin debate and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. If that support holds, it will be enough to send the bill through the Senate and send it to the House in the coming days.

The legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act, includes big spending to fight climate change and expand health care, paid for by savings on prescription drugs and taxes on businesses. It is putting hundreds of billions of dollars into reducing the deficit.

“This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor before the vote.

“It’s going to mean a lot to the families and the people of our country,” Harris told NBC News as she arrived to break the 50-50 tie.

The procedural vote, during a rare weekend session, kicks off several hours of debate, followed by a “vote-a-rama” — a process in which senators can offer virtually unlimited amendments that require a simple majority vote to pass.

The legislation is not subject to a filibuster — it is pursued through a special process called reconciliation, which allows Democrats to pass it on their own. But the process contains limits; policies included in the bill must be related to spending and taxes, and the legislation must adhere to a strict set of budget rules. It’s the same process Democrats used to pass American bailout plan in 2021 and Republicans used to pass Trump’s tax cuts in 2017.

Before Saturday’s vote, Senate lawmakers decided that key Democratic provisions on clean energy and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices passed muster and could be included in the inflation package, Democratic leaders said.

“While there was an unfortunate decision in that the inflation discount is more limited in scope,” Schumer said, “the overall program remains intact and we are one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions of Americans. “

The Democrats-only package, which includes several parts of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, was long thought dead after Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., rejected a major bill in December. He make a deal last week with Schumer, pleasantly surprising many of his Democratic colleaguesand has since been on a media blitz to sell it.

“It’s a red, white and blue bill,” Manchin said recently on MSNBC, calling it “one of the greatest bills” and “the bill that we have to fight inflation, to have more energy.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., after a week of silence Thursday, signed on the bill after securing some changes to it.

Sinema forced Democrats to eliminate a provision that would have limited the carried interest tax credit, which allows wealthy hedge funds and investment managers to pay a lower tax rate.

“We had no choice,” Schumer told reporters.

Instead, it was replaced by a new 1% excise tax on stock buybacks that is expected to bring in $74 billion — five times the carrying rate, Schumer said. Sinema also secured $4 billion in funding for drought prevention in Arizona and other western states.

Before her changes, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would reduce the deficit by about $100 billion over a decade, with the potential for an additional $200 billion in revenue from strengthening IRS enforcement resources.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, RS.D., promised “tough votes for Democrats” in the vote-a-rama process.

“The question at the end of the day is, are these amendments actually going to be amendments that can change the bill? Could make it better. Maybe make it harder to pass in the House, who knows?” Thune said Friday.

Some Democrats worry that Republicans are proposing poison-pill changes on contentious issues such as immigration and crime that could win a majority of votes in the Senate — where they elect some moderate and vulnerable senators facing re-election this fall — but alienate other Democrats and disrupts fragile agreement.

“I certainly cannot support it if extraneous provisions are passed, especially derogatory immigration provisions that have nothing to do with the health, welfare and safety of the American people,” Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., said this week on MSNBC.

On Saturday, a handful of Senate Democrats took to Twitter to urge their colleagues to hold the line and vote down amendments that could jeopardize the package.

“I will vote NO to all amendments, even those I agree with,” tweeted Late. Tina Smith, D-Minn. “This bill makes historic progress on climate action and lowering prescription drug costs. It has 50 votes, and we need to stick together to keep it that way.”

Late. Cory Booker, DN.J., agreed with this strategy. “There are a number of us who have already tweeted that we are going to vote no on amendments that we like and that we don’t like,” he told reporters on Saturday.

“There’s such a moral urgency … to get a bill across the line that’s going to deal with the existential threat of climate change. I think that’s motivating, and I’m seeing even more unity than usual.”

Late. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said Friday that the change process would be uncomfortable. “What’s vote-a-rama going to be like? It’s going to be hell,” he said.

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Javed Iqbal

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