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
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
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
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
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
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.