The US Senate voted along party lines on Saturday night to advance debate on Democrats’ comprehensive energy, health and tax bills, clearing a major hurdle to passage.
of 51-50 vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tieleft the room to debate and vote on the amendments measure and showed he had enough Democratic support to overcome the united Republican opposition.
“We’re going to show the American people that, yes, we are capable of passing a historic climate package, reining in drug companies and making our tax code fairer,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote. “We are able to make big promises and work hard to keep them too.
“This is one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching pieces of legislation to come before Congress in decades,” added the New York Democrat. “It will help almost every citizen in this country and make America a much better place.”
As expected, every Republican voted against the measure. Republicans inside and outside the Senate have criticized the measure for excessive spending during a recession while doing little to address consumer inflation, which they say is the main issue facing America.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell focused his remarks on the measure’s provisions allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs, saying it would lead to a drastic reduction in research and development efforts in the private sector.
“The Democrats’ policy would not bring about a paradise where we would get all the amazing new innovations that we would have gotten anyway, but at lower prices,” he said. “Their policy would lead to a world where far fewer new drugs and treatments would be invented in the first place, as companies cut back on R&D.”
The White House said Saturday that President Joe Biden’s administration “strongly supports” the bill.
“This legislation would lower health care, prescription drug, and energy costs, invest in energy security, and make our tax code fairer — all while fighting inflation and reducing the deficit,” the statement said. of administration policy.
The vote opened a rare weekend Senate session — while the chamber was scheduled to be on August recess — that is expected to include up to 20 hours of debate and consideration of 40 to 50 amendments in a “vota-a-rama.”
Depending on the length of the debate and the vote on the amendment, the final vote is expected on Sunday or Monday.
The bill, negotiated primarily by Schumer and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III with additional changes made at the behest of Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, would spend about $370 billion on clean energy programsallow Medicare to negotiate some drug prices starting in 2026 and change the tax code and strengthen Internal Revenue Enforcement to bring in more than $400 billion in new revenue over 10 years.
On July 29 analysis from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania found that the law would have a negligible impact on inflation.
After negotiations with Sinema and the presentation of the bill to the Senate parliamentarian to ensure all provisions qualified to be considered within the budget reconciliation, the Democrats released a longer updated bill of 755 pages minutes before the vote to open the debate on Saturday.
The reconciliation process allows Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority, rather than the usual 60-vote threshold.
CBO sent Schumer an incomplete result of the bill updated on Saturday. The estimate showed that seven of the eight spending sections would increase the deficit by $115 over 10 years. It did not include revenue projections.
Among the late changes in the bill was an additional $4 billion to address western droughts.
Western Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Mark Kelly of Arizona and Michael Bennet of Colorado announced they secured funding for the Bureau of Recovery to address droughts in Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.
“The Western United States is experiencing an unprecedented drought, and it is critical that we have the resources we need to support our states’ efforts to combat climate change, conserve water resources, and protect the Colorado River Basin. ,” they said in a joint. statement.
Democrats also added a provision in co-pay insulin price cap for Americans at $35 starting in 2024. However, the insulin language could be challenged by Republicans on the floor.
Another provision, pushed by Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and included in the initial draft of the bill, would permanently expand the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which provides monthly payments and medical benefits to disabled coal miners who developed black lung disease while working in coal mines.
Reduced prescription drug costs and tax code changes more than offset the bill’s spending, reducing the deficit by about $100 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Additional IRS enforcement would bring the total deficit reduction to about $300 billion.
Those predictions haven’t stopped Republicans from criticizing the bill as a “tax and spend” measure.
Deficit reduction will amount to less than 1% of the nation’s gross domestic product over 10 years, Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, said Friday.
“That’s going to be a total rounding error,” he said. “So that’s what they’re using to justify and that’s their strongest argument, it’s a pretty weak strong argument.”
Forcing tough votes
Most of the amendments to the Democratic-authored bill are expected to come from Republicans, some with the express purpose of forcing Democrats into difficult political positions ahead of the November elections.
GOP Conference Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said Republicans would propose amendments on immigration, crime, inflation and energy policy.
US Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the amendment votes would be “like hell”.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said the chamber would return from its August recess to vote Friday on a Senate-passed bill.