Senate Democrats advanced their long-delayed health care, tax and climate bill on Saturday after months of back and forth over whether the party would be able to pass major legislation addressing some of their progressive priorities ahead of the midterm elections.
The Senate voted along party lines, 50-50, to kick off debate on the measure, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.
Democrats pass the bill using a special parliamentary procedure called reconciliation, which does not allow for Republican filibuster.
Democrats, eager to tout the bill’s benefits on the campaign trail this fall, called it historic.
“This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) . “It will reduce inflation. This will reduce prescription drug costs. It will fight against climate change. It will close tax loopholes and reduce the deficit. It will help every citizen of this country and make America a much better place.
The bill would allow the federal government to begin negotiating drug prices in Medicare — albeit slowly — and create incentives and subsidies to tackle the climate crisis, two major policy priorities Democrats hope to implement this fall.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which publishes cost estimates for legislation, said Saturday it was still working on one due to last-minute changes. An analysis of an earlier version of the bill found it would reduce the deficit by $102 billion over a decade.
For congressional Democrats and President Biden, this would mark a welcome legislative bright spot.
Democrats have scrambled in recent days to tie up negotiations — work that continued through Saturday.
Since Democrats are passing the bill by way of reconciliation, it must be reviewed by a nonpartisan Senate official to confirm that all elements of the legislation comply with Senate rules. This process has been underway for days and was largely completed Saturday noon.
While Democrats were able to keep most of their bill intact through this process, they had to change how a cap on rising drug prices will be calculated. It’s also unclear whether a $35 cap on copayments for insulin will go through the process.
After Saturday’s vote, lawmakers were to begin a long series of votes on amendments to the bill, dubbed vote-a-rama. As part of the reconciliation process, the minority party can propose unlimited amendments, and it usually takes the opportunity to propose politically controversial ideas designed to block the bill or, at a minimum, force the majority to take votes. politically unfavorable.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) said the process would be “like hell. They deserve it.
“Hopefully we can come up with proposals that will make sense to a few of them and that they will leave this jihad they are in,” he said on Friday.
Republicans argue the bill will make inflation worse. “Democrats want to take hundreds of billions of dollars in tax hikes and hundreds of billions of dollars in reckless spending,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Saturday.
The CBO said the bill would have a “negligible” impact on inflation this year. Democrats quoted other economic experts who say it will reduce inflation.
“It’s about fighting inflation,” Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.V.) said last weekend while touting the bill on “Face the Nation.” “It’s about the absolutely awful position that people are in right now because of the costs of inflation, whether it’s gasoline, whether it’s food prices, whether it’s energy prices , and it is around the energy, which mainly leads [this] high inflation.
If Democrats are able to pull together through the series of amendments, they hope to give the bill final passage as early as Sunday morning.
House leaders plan to bring members of that chamber back to Washington on Friday to vote on the bill. If approved, he would go to Biden’s office for his signature.
Declared dead several times over the past year, the Democrats’ sweeping legislation was resurrected following secret talks between Schumer and Manchin, the most conservative Senate Democrat.
The bill, the Cut Inflation Act, is much smaller than the original $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” plan, which contained a series of progressive policies such as universal pre-kindergarten and child care that Manchin said in December he would not support.
Once Manchin and Schumer reached agreement on a plan, attention turned to another frequent outlier in the Democratic ranks, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
She removed the bill’s tightening of a “deferred interest” tax loophole that will benefit high-income investors, and she was expected to add new funding to tackle the drought, though those details are still unsettled.
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