WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Senate voted Saturday to begin debate on Democrats’ election-year economic bill, boosting President Joe Biden’s broad stack of climate, energy, health and tax priorities by passing his test. novice as he begins to move through Congress.
In a preview of the expected vote on a mountain of amendments, united Democrats pushed the legislation through the evenly divided chamber 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie and overcoming unanimous Republican opposition. The package, a watered-down version of earlier multitrillion-dollar measures that Democrats failed to advance, has become a partisan battleground over inflation, gas prices and other issues that polls show are driving voters.
The House of Representatives, where Democrats hold a slim majority, could give final approval next Friday, when lawmakers plan to return to Washington.
The vote came after Senate lawmakers welcomed the majority of Democrats’ revised 755-page bill. But Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s nonpartisan rules arbitrator, said Democrats had to give up a key part of their plan to curb drug prices.
MacDonough said Democrats violated Senate budget rules by imposing heavy penalties on drugmakers who raise their prices beyond inflation in the private insurance market. These were the bill’s main price protections for the roughly 180 million people whose health coverage comes from private insurance, either through work or purchased on their own.
Other pharmaceutical provisions were left untouched, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, a longtime Democratic aspiration. Penalties on manufacturers for exceeding inflation will apply to drugs sold to Medicare, and there is a $2,000 annual out-of-pocket limit on drug costs and free vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries.
“Now is the time to move forward with a big and bold package for the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. “This historic bill will reduce inflation, reduce costs, fight climate change. It’s time to move this nation forward.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats are “misreading the anger of the American people as a mandate for another reckless tax and spending spree.” He said the Democrats “have already robbed American families once through inflation and now their solution is to rob American families a second time.”
Saturday’s vote capped a surprising 10-day period that saw Democrats revive key components of Biden’s agenda that seemed dead. In quick deals with the two most unpredictable Democratic senators— first conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginiathen Arizona Center Kyrsten Sinema — Schumer put together a package that would give the party a boost against the backdrop of this fall’s congressional elections.
A White House statement said the legislation “would help address today’s most pressing economic challenges, make our economy stronger for decades to come, and position the United States as a world leader in clean energy “.
Assuming Democrats fight off an incessant “vote-a-rama” of amendments — many designed by Republicans to derail the measure — they should be able to push the measure through the Senate.
“How will the vote-a-rama be? It’s going to be hell,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said of the looming GOP amendments. He said that in supporting the Democratic bill, Manchin and Sinema “are empowering legislation that will make life more difficult for the average person” by driving up energy costs with higher taxes and making it harder for companies to hire workers. .
The bill offers spending and tax incentives favored by progressives for buying electric vehicles and making buildings more energy efficient. But in a bow to Manchin, whose state is a major fossil fuel producer, it also has money to reduce coal plant carbon emissions and language requiring the government to open up more federal land and waters to drilling. oil.
Expired subsidies that help millions of people afford private insurance premiums will be extended for three years, and there is $4 billion to help Western states fight the drought. A new provision would create a $35 monthly cap on insulin, the expensive diabetes drug, for Medicare and private insurance patients starting next year. It seemed possible that the language was weakened or removed during the debate.
Reflecting Democrats’ calls for tax equality, there would be a new minimum tax of 15% for some corporations that make more than $1 billion a year but pay far less than the current 21% corporate tax. Companies that buy back their shares will be taxed 1% on those transactions, exchanged after Sinema refused to support higher taxes on private equity firm executives and hedge fund managers. The IRS budget would be increased to strengthen tax collection.
While the final costs of the bill are still being determined, it would generally spend about $400 billion over 10 years to slow climate change, which analysts say would be the nation’s largest investment in the effort and billions more in health care. It would raise more than $700 billion in taxes and government drug cost savings, leaving about $300 billion for deficit reduction over the next decade — a drop from the $16 trillion budget shortfall of provided for in that period.
Democrats are using special procedures that would allow them to pass the measure without having to reach the 60-vote majority that legislation often needs in the Senate.
Parliamentarians decide whether pieces of legislation should be struck down for violating those rules, which include a requirement that the provisions be primarily intended to affect the federal budget, not impose new policy.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.