Kamala Harris Helps Climate, Energy, Health, Tax Bill Clear First Hurdle

In a divided Senate, Democrats voted Saturday to begin debating their election-year economic bill, clearing the first hurdle as it moves through the Congress on climate, energy, and health.

Despite a mountain of amendments, united Democrats pushed the bill through the evenly divided chamber by 50-50, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. A dwindled version of the earlier multitrillion-dollar measures, it has become a partisan battleground over inflation, gasoline prices, and other issues.

Democratic lawmakers could give it final approval next Friday when they return to Washington with a narrow majority.

The Senate parliamentarian gave the Democrats’ revised 755-page bill the thumbs-up. The chamber’s nonpartisan rules arbitrator, Elizabeth MacDonough, said Democrats had to abandon part of their plan to curb drug prices.

According to MacDonough, Democrats violated Senate budget rules by imposing hefty penalties on drug makers for boosting private insurance prices beyond inflation. This was the bill’s primary pricing protection for roughly 180 million people with private insurance, either through work or purchased separately.

Several other pharmaceutical provisions were left intact, including Medicare’s right to negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients. Manufacturers would be penalized for exceeding inflation on drugs sold to Medicare, and Medicare beneficiaries would receive free vaccines and a $2,000 annual out-of-pocket cap.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said it’s time to move forward with a big, bold package for the American people. With this historic bill, inflation will be reduced, costs will be lowered, and climate change will be combated. It is time for this nation to move forward.

Democrats are misinterpreting the outrage of the American people as a mandate for yet another reckless spending and taxing spree, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Inflation has already robbed American families once, and now Democrats intend to rob them a second time.

As a result of Saturday’s vote, Democrats resurrected top components of Biden’s agenda that had seemed doomed ten days ago. Using rapid-fire deals with two of the party’s most unpredictable senators, conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona centrist Kyrsten Sinema, Schumer assembled a package that would boost the party in the fall elections approach.

We will be able to solve today’s most pressing economic challenges, strengthen our economy for years to come, and make the United States the world’s leader in clean energy, according to a White House statement.

Assuming Democrats survive a nonstop “vote-a-rama” of amendments  — most of them designed by Republicans to stop the legislation, it is likely that the measure will pass the Senate.

Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said Manchin and Sinema were empowering legislation that would increase the cost of energy through tax increases and make it harder for companies to hire workers.

Tax incentives and spending incentives are offered in the bill favored by progressives for purchasing electric vehicles and improving energy efficiency in buildings. In a nod to Manchin, whose state is a major fossil fuel producer, there are also funds to reduce coal plant carbon emissions and language requiring federal lands and waters to be opened to oil drilling.

Subsidies will help millions of people afford private insurance premiums for three years, and $4 billion will be allocated to help Western states deal with drought. In a new provision, insulin, an expensive diabetes medication, will be capped at $35 per month starting next year for Medicare and private insurance patients. The debate might weaken or remove language.

Democrat calls for tax equity would result in a 15% minimum tax on some corporations that earn over $1 billion but pay far less than the current 21% corporate tax. As a result of Sinema’s refusal to support higher taxes on private equity firm executives and hedge fund managers, companies purchasing their stock would be taxed 1%. Tax collection would be strengthened by increasing the IRS budget.

Overall, the bill would spend close to $400 billion over ten years to slow climate change, a significant investment in the country’s climate effort. The bill would also spend billions on health care. More than $700 billion would be raised in taxes and from government drug cost savings, leaving about $300 billion to reduce the deficit.

By using special procedures, Democrats can pass the measure without needing the 60-vote majority that legislation often requires. Parliamentarians decide whether parts of legislation must be dropped for violating those rules, which include a requirement that provisions affect the federal budget rather than impose new regulations.