US Senate Democrats get green light on $430 billion climate and drug bill

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) holds a press conference to tout the $430 billion drug, energy and tax bill championed by Democrats on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, August 5, 2022.

Jonathan Ernest | Reuters

On Saturday, Democrats in the U.S. Senate were expected to advance a bill that would address key items on President Joe Biden’s agenda – tackling climate change, lowering the cost of energy and medicine for seniors and obliging certain corporations and wealthy Americans to pay more taxes.

The Senate congressman determined that the lion’s share of health care provisions in the $430 billion bill could be passed by a simple majority, circumventing a filibuster rule requiring 60 votes in the House of Commons. 100 seats to advance most legislation and allowing Democrats to pass against Republican objections, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

The Senate began its rare weekend session around noon (1600 GMT). Saturday will kick off an arduous process that could drag on into early next week, with senators proposing amendment after amendment in a time-consuming “vote-a-rama.”

Democrats hope the legislation will give their candidates a boost in the Nov. 8 midterm elections in which Biden’s party is in an uphill battle to retain tight control of the Senate and House of Representatives. Democrats touted the legislation as a way to tackle inflation, a top concern for American voters this year.

“Democrats have received some very good news,” Schumer said in the statement. “Medicare will finally be allowed to negotiate drug prices. … This is a major victory for the American people.”

Medicare is the government health insurance program for the elderly and some disabled Americans.

The bill’s tax provisions have three main parts: a 15% minimum corporate tax and closing loopholes the wealthy can use to avoid paying taxes; stricter IRS enforcement; and a new excise tax on share buybacks.

The legislation provides $430 billion in new spending and generates more than $740 billion in new revenue.

Along with billions of dollars to encourage the production and purchase of more electric vehicles and foster clean energy, the bill would establish $4 billion in new federal drought relief funds. The latter is a decision that could help the re-election campaigns of Democratic senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona.

Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the climate provisions, including the methane emissions reduction program, had been approved by the Senate Congressman.

Republicans have vowed to do whatever they can to block or block the bill.

Democrats aim to push the bill through the Senate using an arcane and convoluted “reconciliation” procedure allowing passage without any Republican support in the house divided 50-50 between the parties, with Democrats in control because the Vice President Kamala Harris may cast a tie-break vote.

A provision deleted from the bill would have required drug companies to refund money to public and private health plans if drug prices rose faster than inflation. The parliamentarian ruled that the measure could not apply to private industry.

Left-leaning senators like Bernie Sanders will likely try to expand the scope of the bill to include new programs such as federal subsidies for child care or home care for the elderly. Republicans have signaled that they will be proposing numerous amendments touching on another issue: immigrants crossing the US border from Mexico.

Several Democratic senators said they would vote against all of the amendments, fearing they would derail a delicately negotiated deal.

“I will be voting NO on all amendments – even the things I love,” Democratic Senator Brian Schatz wrote on Twitter. “I can think of many ways to strengthen it, but I will not derail this bill by supporting changes.”

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