Democrats’ big climate, health care and tax package clears major Senate hurdle
The Senate voted Saturday to advance a sweeping climate and economic bill with the support of all 50 Democrats, bringing a long-stagnant element of President Joe Biden’s agenda closer to reality.
The procedural vote on the filibuster is 51-50, All Republicans opposed the motion to open the debate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tiebreaker. If that support holds, the bill would be enough to pass the Senate and head to the House of Representatives in the next few days.
The legislation, known as the Reducing Inflation Act, includes major spending to fight climate change and expand health care coverage, paid for by saving on prescription drugs and taxing companies. It spends hundreds of billions of dollars on deficit reduction.
“This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in remarks before the vote.
During a rare weekend session, the procedural vote begins with hours of debate, followed by a “vote puller” — a process in which senators can offer a nearly unlimited number of amendments that require a simple majority to pass.
The legislation isn’t subject to a filibuster — it’s going through a special process called reconciliation, which allows Democrats to pass it on their own. But the process includes restrictions; the policies contained in the bill must be related to spending and taxation, and the legislation must adhere to a strict set of budgetary rules. This is the same process Democrats used to pass the US rescue package in 2021 and Republicans used to pass the 2017 Trump tax cuts.
Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Senate members ruled that key Democrats’ provisions on clean energy and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices could be included in the inflation package, Democratic leaders said.
“While there was an unfortunate ruling that the inflation rebate was more limited in scope, the overall program remains intact, and we’re one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering prescription drug prices for millions of Americans,” Schumer said.
The Democratic-only package, which includes several elements of Biden’s “build back better” agenda, has long been seen as a result of a decision that Sen. Joe Manchin of DW.Va. rejected in December. After the big bill has died. He surprised many of his Democratic colleagues last week with a deal with Schumer that has since been sold in a media blitz.
“This is a red, white, blue bill,” Manchin said recently on MSNBC, calling it “one of the greatest pieces of legislation” and “we need a bill that fights inflation and has more energy.”
On Thursday, Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema signed the bill after making some changes to the bill after a week of silence.
Sinema forced Democrats to remove a provision that limited the carried interest tax deduction that allowed wealthy hedge funds and investment managers to pay lower tax rates.
“We had no choice,” Schumer told reporters.
In its place, Schumer said, is a new 1 percent excise tax on share repurchases, expected to bring in $74 billion — five times the amount of provisions for carried interest. Sinema also received $4 billion for drought prevention in Arizona and other western states.
Before her change, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office established The bill would reduce the deficit by about $100 billion over a decade and could also increase revenue by $200 billion due to strengthening the IRS’s enforcement resources.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) pledged to “vote for Democrats” during the voting process.
“The question is, in the end, are these amendments really going to be amendments that could change the bill? Could make it better. Could make it more difficult to get through the House, who knows?” Thune said Friday.
Some Democrats worry that Republicans’ poison pill amendments on controversial issues like immigration and crime could win a Senate majority — picking some moderate and weak senators facing re-election this fall — but alienate others Democrats and disrupt the fragile deal.
Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said on MSNBC this week: “I certainly cannot support the passage of irrelevant regulations, especially derogatory immigration regulations that have nothing to do with the health, welfare and safety of the American people. ” .
On Saturday, a handful of Senate Democrats tweeted urging their colleagues to stay the course and veto amendments that could jeopardize the package.
“I will vote against all amendments, even the ones I agree with,” tweet Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn. “This bill has made historic progress on climate action and reducing the cost of prescription drugs. It has 50 votes and we need to stand together to keep it that way.”
Senator Cory Booker, DN.J., agreed with this strategy. “Some of us have already tweeted that we will vote against the amendments that we like and dislike,” he told reporters on Saturday.
“There’s such a moral urgency … to pass a bill to address the existential threat of climate change. I think it’s an incentive and I see more solidarity than normal.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of RS.C. said Friday that the revision process would be unpleasant. “What would it be like to vote Rama? It’s like hell,” he said.