April 1, 2023

WASHINGTON — On Saturday, the divided Senate took a key step toward approving Democrats’ plans to tackle climate change, lower health care costs and raise taxes on big corporations, with a test vote to enact one of President Biden’s Important domestic policies paved the way. Agenda for the next few days.

The measure advanced by a partisan vote of 51 to 50, with all Republicans opposed and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.

The action shows that after more than a year of internal wrangling and hard negotiations, Democrats have finally come together to support legislation that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in climate and energy projects, expand Affordable Care Act subsidies and create a new federal initiative to reduce prescription drugs costs, especially for older Americans.

many 755 pages of legislation It will be paid for through tax increases, which Democrats have said are designed to make the tax code fairer.

The vote puts the bill on track to pass the Senate as early as Sunday, with the House expected to approve it by the end of the week. That would give Biden a big boost at a time when his approval ratings are falling, giving Democrats a victory in November’s midterm elections, when their congressional majority is at stake.

Majority Leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, in the Senate on Saturday. “This is a major victory for the American people and a sad comment for the Republican Party, who actively oppose provisions that reduce the cost of American families.”

The hard-won deal, which includes the largest investment in history to combat global warming, comes after two key Democratic holdouts — Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Arizona The agreement was reached after a series of intense negotiations with Kirsten Sinema.

Just a few weeks ago, Manchin, a conservative Democrat from the red states, said he could not agree to include climate, energy and tax measures in his domestic policy plan this summer because he feared doing so would fuel inflation. But news of him and Mr. Schumer at the end of last month stunned lawmakers on both sides, who quietly returned to the negotiating table and struck a deal that included the proposals.

On Thursday, Ms. Sinema announced that she would also move forward with concessions, including removing a provision that would have narrowed the tax break to allow private equity executives and hedge fund managers to pay less taxpayers on certain income than others. Much more tax to do.

Democrats have accelerated bills through Congress under a mysterious budget process known as reconciliation, which protects certain tax and spending measures from obstruction but also severely limits what can be included.

Republicans remain unanimous in their opposition to the measure and frantically trying to undermine it, angry at the resurgence of a program they thought was dead. The deal between Mr. Schumer and Mr. Manchin caught them off guard, and they scrambled to slam the bill as a spending, tax-raising abomination that would fuel inflation and hurt the economy at a time of crisis.

“Democrats are misreading the anger of the American people as an order for yet another—again—reckless taxation and spending frenzy,” said Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

He denounced “a wave of Washington intervention,” which he said would be the result of a prescription drug program, which he said would “bring attention to the research and development behind new, life-saving medical treatments and treatments.”

But Democrats have renamed the transformative cradle-to-grave social safety net and climate plan they once called “Build Back Better” as the Inflation Reduction Act. Operating with a narrow majority in the Senate, giving their most conservative members strong sway over the measure, Democrats have given up hundreds of billions of dollars in proposed spending on domestic programs, as well as many of the tax increases they paid for. .

External estimates suggest that the measure, which would not force a significant increase in federal spending or tax increases outside of big corporations, is expected to reduce the federal budget deficit by the end of the century.

That didn’t stop Republicans from thinking it would be disastrous for the economy and Americans. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, called it “the 2022 Manchin-Schumer tax hike.”

Republicans have spent much of the past week trying to devise ways to slow or block the legislation, arguing that it violates settlement rules. (They said privately, however, that they would not force Senate staffers to read the bill aloud, following an outcry last year when a similar move was done.)

Senator Elizabeth McDonough and her staff worked well into the early hours of Saturday to determine whether components of the bill violated the rules, which require each provision to have a direct impact on federal spending or revenue. Earlier Saturday, she directed Democrats to narrow the scope of a proposal aimed at preventing drug prices from rising more than inflation, and said the proposed rebate would only apply to Medicare purchases, not private insurers.

But top Democrats announced that much of the legislation remained unchanged following Ms McDonough’s review, including a plan to allow Medicare to directly negotiate prescription drug prices for the first time, restrictions on tax breaks for new electric vehicles and a plan to reduce overcharging. cost. Emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas often emitted by oil and natural gas leaks.

In a final attempt to thwart the measure, Republicans began mandating a series of quick votes on the politically toxic amendment as early as Saturday night — an hours-long ceremony known as a ballot vote, Settlement measures must survive in order to be approved. In a tie Senate, all 50 members of the Democratic caucus must stay united to block any changes proposed by Republicans and win eventual passage.

“What will voting be like? It’s like hell,” swears by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. For Democrats, he said: “They deserve it.”

Democrats can still change the bill, too. They are expected to largely dare to get Republicans to scrap a proposal to cap the cost of insulin for all patients, a popular measure that violates budget rules because it would not directly affect federal spending.

At least one Democratic caucus member, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent of Vermont, and the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said he plans to vote on amendments to improve the legislation.

“This is a completely inappropriate bill, but it does start to address the existential threats facing the planet in a way,” Sanders said in an interview Friday. “I am disappointed.”

However, most Democrats have tried to unite their colleagues and stand united against any amendments — including those that might be proposed by members of their caucus — to maintain the delicate consensus around the bill and ensure it can become law .

“My concern is that we end up with 50 votes, well, that means we have to keep the deal,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told reporters. “The important thing is that we have a deal, we need Keep the agreement intact.”

Lisa Friedman, Stephanie Lai and Sheryl Guy Stolberg Contribution report.

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