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Dems Push Biden Plan Toward Senate OK  08/07 10:03

   Democrats drove their election-year economic package toward Senate approval 
early Sunday, debating a measure with less ambition than President Joe Biden's 
original domestic vision but that touches deep-rooted party dreams of slowing 
global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing immense corporations.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats drove their election-year economic package 
toward Senate approval early Sunday, debating a measure with less ambition than 
President Joe Biden's original domestic vision but that touches deep-rooted 
party dreams of slowing global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and 
taxing immense corporations.

   Debate began Saturday and by early Sunday morning, Democrats had swatted 
down over a dozen Republican amendments designed to torpedo the legislation or 
create campaign ads attacking Democratic senators. Despite unanimous GOP 
opposition, Democratic unity in the 50-50 chamber -- buttressed by Vice 
President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote -- suggested the party was on track 
for a morale-boosting victory three months from elections when congressional 
control is at stake.

   "I think it's gonna pass," Biden told reporters as he left the White House 
early Sunday to go to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, ending his COVID-19 isolation. 
The House seemed on track to provide final congressional approval when it 
returns briefly from summer recess on Friday.

   "It will reduce inflation. It will lower prescription drug costs. It will 
fight climate change. It will close tax loopholes and it will reduce the 
deficit," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.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 plummeting into recession. They said the bill's 
business taxes would hurt job creation and force prices skyward, making it 
harder for people to cope with the nation'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," Senate Minority 
Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued. He said spending and tax increases in 
the legislation would eliminate jobs while having insignificant impact on 
inflation and climate change.

   Nonpartisan analysts have said Democrats' "Inflation Reduction Act" would 
have a minor effect on surging consumer prices. The bill is barely more than 
one-tenth the size of Biden's initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion rainbow of 
progressive aspirations and abandons its proposals for universal preschool, 
paid family leave and expanded child care aid.

   Even so, the new measure gives Democrats a campaign-season showcase for 
action on coveted goals. It includes the largest ever federal effort on climate 
change -- close to $400 billion -- hands Medicare the power to negotiate 
pharmaceutical prices and extends expiring subsidies that help 13 million 
people afford health insurance.

   Biden's original measure collapsed after conservative Sen. Joe Manchin, 
D-W.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 had to 
endure an overnight "vote-a-rama" of rapid-fire amendments. Each tested 
Democrats' ability to hold together a compromise negotiated by Schumer, 
progressives, Manchin and the inscrutable centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

   Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., offered amendments to further expand 
the legislation's health benefits, and those efforts were defeated. Most votes 
were forced by Republicans and many were designed to make Democrats look soft 
on U.S.-Mexico border security and gasoline and energy costs, and like bullies 
for wanting to strengthen IRS tax law enforcement.

   Before debate began Saturday, the bill's prescription drug price curbs were 
diluted by the Senate's nonpartisan parliamentarian. Elizabeth MacDonough, who 
referees questions about the chamber's procedures, said a provision should fall 
that would impose costly penalties on drug makers whose price increases for 
private insurers exceed inflation.

   It was the bill's chief protection for the 180 million people with private 
health coverage they get through work or purchase themselves. Under special 
procedures that will let Democrats pass their bill by simple majority without 
the usual 60-vote margin, its provisions must be focused more on 
dollar-and-cents budget numbers than policy changes.

   But the thrust of their pharmaceutical price language remained. That 
included letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million 
elderly recipients, penalizing manufacturers for exceeding inflation for 
pharmaceuticals sold to Medicare and limiting beneficiaries out-of-pocket drug 
costs to $2,000 annually.

   The bill also caps patients' costs for insulin, the expensive diabetes 
medication, at $35 monthly.

   The measure's final costs were being recalculated to reflect late changes, 
but overall it would raise more than $700 billion over a decade. The money 
would come from a 15% minimum tax on a handful of corporations with yearly 
profits above $1 billion, a 1% tax on companies that repurchase their own 
stock, bolstered IRS tax collections and government savings from lower drug 
costs.

   Sinema forced Democrats to drop a plan to prevent wealthy hedge fund 
managers from paying less than individual income tax rates for their earnings. 
She also joined with other Western senators to win $4 billion to combat the 
region's drought.

   It was on the energy and environment side that compromise was most evident 
between progressives and Manchin, a champion of fossil fuels and his state's 
coal industry.

   Clean energy would be fostered with tax credits for buying electric vehicles 
and manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines. There would be home energy 
rebates, funds for constructing factories building clean energy technology and 
money to promote climate-friendly farm practices and reduce pollution in 
minority communities.

   Manchin won billions to help power plants lower carbon emissions plus 
language requiring more government auctions for oil drilling on federal land 
and waters. Party leaders also promised to push separate legislation this fall 
to accelerate permits for energy projects, which Manchin wants to include a 
nearly completed natural gas pipeline in his state.

 
 
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