WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats pushed their election-year economic package to Senate approval early Sunday, debating a measure that is less ambitious than President Joe Biden’s original domestic policy vision but touches on deep-rooted party dreams, global warming to slow down, lower drug costs and lower taxation giant corporations.
Debate began Saturday, and by early Sunday morning Democrats had struck down over a dozen Republican amendments aimed at torpedoing legislation or creating campaign ads that attack Democratic senators. Despite unanimous GOP opposition, Democratic unity in the 50-50 chamber — bolstered by Vice President Kamala Harris’s tied vote — suggested the party might be on the loose three months after the election, when control of Congress is at stake the way to a morale-boosting victory.
“I think it will pass,” Biden told reporters as he left the White House early Sunday to go to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to end his COVID-19 isolation. The House appeared on track to give final approval from Congress when it briefly returns from summer recess on Friday.
“That will reduce inflation. It will reduce the cost of prescription drugs. It will fight climate change. It will close tax loopholes and reduce the deficit,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said of the package. “It will help every citizen in this country and make America a much better place.”
Republicans said the measure would undermine an economy that policymakers are struggling to keep from sliding into a recession. They said the bill’s corporate taxes would hurt job creation and push up prices, making it harder for people to cope with the country’s worst inflation since the 1980s.
“Democrats have already robbed American families once through inflation, and now their solution is to rob American families a second time,” argued Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He said spending and tax hikes in legislation would destroy jobs while having insignificant impacts on inflation and climate change.
Impartial analysts have said the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act would have little impact on rising consumer prices. The bill is little more than a tenth the size of Biden’s initial 10-year rainbow of $3.5 trillion in progressive aspirations and abandons his proposals for universal preschool, paid family leave and expanded childcare assistance.
Still, the new measure gives Democrats a showcase for action on coveted targets during the campaign season. It includes the largest federal effort on climate change ever — nearly $400 billion — and gives Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices and extends expiring subsidies that help 13 million people afford health insurance.
Biden’s original measure collapsed after Conservative Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., opposed it, saying it was too costly and would fuel inflation.
In an ordeal imposed on all budget bills like this one, the Senate endured an overnight “vote-a-rama” of rapid-fire amendments. Each tested the Democrats’ ability to hold together a compromise negotiated by Schumer, progressives, Manchin and the inscrutable centrist Senator Kyrsten Sinema of D-Ariz.
Progressive Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., offered amendments to further expand the legislation’s health benefits, and those efforts were thwarted. Most of the votes were coerced by Republicans, and many were designed to make Democrats look soft on U.S.-Mexico border security and gas and energy costs, and make them look like thugs for blocking enforcement of the wanted to strengthen IRS tax legislation.
Before the debate began on Saturday, prescription drug price limits were watered down by the Senate’s impartial lawmaker. Elizabeth MacDonough, who is answering questions about the chamber’s procedures, said a provision should be dropped that would impose costly penalties on drugmakers whose price increases for private insurers exceed inflation.
It was the bill’s main protection for the 180 million people with private health insurance, either through work or through purchasing it themselves. Under special procedures that allow Democrats to pass their bill by a simple majority without the usual 60-vote margin, its provisions must focus more on dollar-and-cent budget numbers than policy changes.
But the thrust of their pharmaceutical pricing language remained the same. These included letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly beneficiaries, penalizing manufacturers for exceeding inflation on drugs sold to Medicare, and capping beneficiaries’ drug costs at $2,000 a year.
The bill also limits patients’ costs for insulin, the expensive diabetes drug, to $35 a month.
The final cost of the measure has been recalculated to reflect late changes, but overall it would bring in more than $700 billion over a decade. The money would come from a 15% minimum tax on a handful of companies with annual earnings over $1 billion, a 1% tax on companies that buy back their own stock, a boost in IRS tax revenue, and government savings from lower drug costs come.
Sinema forced Democrats to scrap a plan to prevent wealthy hedge fund managers from paying less than individual income tax rates on their earnings. She has also joined other western senators in a bid to raise $4 billion to help fight the region’s drought.
On the energy and environmental side, the clearest compromise has been between the progressives and Manchin, a proponent of fossil fuels and his state’s coal industry.
Clean energy would be promoted through tax credits for buying electric vehicles and manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines. There would be rebates for home energy, funds to build factories to build clean energy technologies, and money to promote climate-friendly farming practices and reduce pollution in minority communities.
Manchin won billions to help power plants cut carbon emissions and called for more government auctions for oil drilling on state land and waters. Party leaders also pledged to push separate legislation this fall to speed up approvals for energy projects, to which Manchin plans to add a near-completed natural gas pipeline in his state.
(Copyright (c) 2022 Sunbeam Television. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)
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