September 29, 2023

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats plan to hold a procedural vote Saturday on their major domestic policy bill, known as the Lower Inflation Act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) announced Thursday.

If all 50 Senate Democrats vote in favor of the measure, the earliest the bill could receive a final vote is early next week.

The legislation would allow Medicare to negotiate with the drug industry for lower prescription drug prices, a hugely popular policy change that Democrats have sought for years. The bill would invest more than $300 billion in green energy grants and tax incentives and ultimately save the government hundreds of billions by funding tougher IRS enforcement and imposing a new minimum tax on the most profitable companies.

His passage would cap an unusually productive session of Congress and give President Joe Biden a major victory ahead of November’s midterm elections.

“We have big things here,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told HuffPost on Thursday.

But Democrats have yet to secure the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who reportedly pushing for changesincluding removing a provision that would have closed a tax loophole related to hedge fund managers and private equity executives.

Cinema declined to speak to reporters Thursday. He was spotted deep in conversation on the Senate floor with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), who largely wrote the bill in secret negotiations with Schumer.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also said he is frustrated with the prescription drug bill, but stopped short of saying he would vote no. “I want to see it improved,” he told reporters Thursday.

Another hurdle is the Senate House Clerk – a backroom Senate official who decides whether various provisions of the bill are allowed through the Senate’s arcane “budget reconciliation” process. The reconciliation allows Democrats to pass their bill with a simple majority, meaning if all 50 Democrats agree, they don’t need a single Republican vote.

Policies deemed “external” by the deputy under reconciliation rules they must be thrown out. The congressman forced Democrats to give up a federal minimum wage increase as part of a reconciliation bill last year.

GOP senators have filed objections to nearly every provision of the bill in Congress in hopes of killing or effectively weakening its structure. Democrats are still waiting to hear about the fate of their prescription drug proposal as well as several revenue provisions.

Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he was optimistic that Democrats would emerge from the reconciliation “gauntlet” with most of their bill intact. He praised Elizabeth MacDonough, who has served as an MP since 2012, as a “straight shooter”.

Democrats had originally hoped to pass a much broader social policy bill known as “Build Back Better,” but were unable to get Manchin’s deal last year on things like paid leave and a monthly child benefit. Negotiations between Manchin and Schumer continued, however, even though there seemed no way Democrats could rally around a more moderate bill.

The bill’s new name is a nod to Manchin’s ongoing concerns about rising prices. Some high-profile economists have said the measure will slow inflation. The The Congressional Budget Office said Thursdayhowever, that the legislation would have a “negligible effect” on inflation this year but might reduce it next year.

After the initial vote to advance the bill on Saturday, there will be up to 20 hours of debate, followed by a marathon session known as a “vote-a-rama,” where senators will vote on an unlimited number of amendments. This process usually takes up to another 20 hours.

Republicans hope to convince Sinema and other moderates to join the vote on some of their non-binding amendments aimed at exposing Democratic divisions with an eye on the midterms.

Schumer on Thursday appeared to allow the plan to fail a vote, saying only: “We expect to vote on the proposal to move forward with the reconciliation legislation on Saturday afternoon.”

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