Democrats’ big tax, health care and climate package clears a major hurdle in the Senate

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Saturday to advance a sweeping economic and climate bill with the support of all 50 Democrats, bringing long-stalled elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda one step closer to reality.

The procedural vote on the filibuster-proof package was 51-50, with all Republicans opposing the motion to begin debate and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote. If that support is maintained, it is enough to pass the bill through the Senate and send it to the House in the next few days.

The legislation, called the Reducing Inflation Act, includes significant spending to combat climate change and expand health care coverage, paid for with savings on prescription drugs and corporate taxes. It puts hundreds of billions of dollars into deficit reduction.

“This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said on the floor before the vote.

“It’s going to mean a lot to the families and people of our country,” Harris told NBC News as he arrived to break the 50-50 tie.

The procedural vote, during a rare weekend session, kicks off several hours of debate, followed by a “vote-a-branch,” a process in which senators can offer virtually unlimited amendments that require a simple majority. of votes to be adopted.

The legislation is not subject to filibuster: It goes through a special process called reconciliation, which allows Democrats to pass it on their own. But the process includes limits; the policies included in the bill must be related to spending and taxes, and the legislation must comply with a strict set of budget rules. It’s the same process the Democrats used to pass the American Rescue Plan in 2021 and Republicans used to approve the 2017 Trump tax cuts.

Before Saturday’s vote, the Senate congressman ruled that key Democratic provisions on clean energy and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices passed and could be included in the inflation package, Democratic leaders said.

“While there was an unfortunate ruling where the inflation rebate is more limited in scope,” Schumer said, “the overall program remains intact and we are one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering prescription drug prices.” for millions of Americans. ”

The Democrats-only package, which includes several pieces of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, was long thought to be dead after Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., rejected a larger bill in December. The reach an agreement last week with Schumer, pleasantly surprising many of his fellow Democratsand since then it has been in a media blitz to sell it.

“It’s a red, white and blue bill,” Manchin said recently on MSNBC, calling it “one of the best pieces of legislation” and “the bill we need to fight inflation, to have more energy.”

On Thursday, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, after a week of silence, signed into the bill after securing some changes to it.

Sinema forced Democrats to scrap a provision that would have limited accrued interest tax exemption, allowing wealthy investment managers and hedge funds to pay a lower tax rate.

“We had no choice,” Schumer told reporters.

Instead, it was replaced by a new 1% excise tax on share buybacks that is expected to raise $74 billion, five times more than the accrued interest provision, Schumer said. Sinema also secured $4 billion in drought prevention funding for Arizona and other western states.

Before his changes, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would reduce the deficit by about $100 billion over a decade, with a potential additional $200 billion in revenue as a result of bolstering IRS enforcement resources.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R.S.D., promised “tough votes for Democrats” in the branch voting process.

“The question is, in the end, will those amendments really be amendments that could change the bill? I could do better. It might make it harder to get through the house, who knows? Thune said on Friday.

Some Democrats worry that Republicans will propose poison pill amendments on contentious issues like immigration and crime that could win most votes in the Senate, eliminating some vulnerable moderate senators facing re-election this fall, but alienate other Democrats and disrupt the fragile deal.

“I certainly cannot support it, if strange provisions are adopted, particularly pejorative immigration provisions that have nothing to do with the health, welfare and safety of the American people,” Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., said this week. on MSNBC. .

On Saturday, a handful of Senate Democrats took to Twitter, urging their colleagues to hold the line and reject amendments that could jeopardize the package.

“I will vote NO on all amendments, even those I agree with.” tweeted Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn. “This bill makes historic progress on climate action and lowering prescription drug costs. It has 50 votes and we must stand together to keep it that way.”

Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., agreed with that strategy. “Some of us have already tweeted that we are going to vote no on the amendments we like and the ones we don’t,” he told reporters on Saturday.

“There is such a great moral urgency … to get a bill that addresses the existential threat of climate change. I think that’s motivating and I’m seeing even more unity than normal.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said Friday that the amendment process would be unpleasant. “What will vote-a-rama be like? It’ll be like hell,” he said.

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