The Senate voted Saturday to advance a sweeping climate and economy bill with the support of all 50 Democrats, bringing elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda one step closer to reality.
The procedural vote for the non-threading package was 51-50, with all Republicans opposing the motion to open the debate and Vice President Kamala Harris giving the tiebreaker. If that support holds, all it takes is for the bill to pass the Senate and send it to the House in the coming days.
The legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act, includes major spending to fight climate change and expand health care coverage, paid for by savings on prescription drugs and corporate taxes. He’s putting hundreds of billions of dollars into deficit reduction.
“This is one of the most comprehensive and effective bills Congress has seen in decades,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor before the vote.
The procedural vote, during a rare weekend session, begins several hours of debate, followed by a “vote-a-rama” — a process in which senators can offer virtually unlimited amendments that require a simple majority vote to pass.
The legislation is not subject to a filibuster — it is pursued through a special process called reconciliation, which allows Democrats to pass it on their own. But the process has limits. The policies included in the bill must be related to spending and taxes, and the legislation must adhere to a strict set of fiscal rules. It’s the same process used by Democrats to pass the 2021 Bailout and Republicans to pass the 2017 Trump tax cuts.
Ahead of Saturday’s vote, the Senate majority ruled that key Democratic provisions on clean energy and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices passed and could be included in the inflation package, Democratic leaders said. .
“While there was an unfortunate decision that the inflation discount is more limited in scope,” Schumer said, “the overall program remains intact and we’re one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions Americans. “
The Democrats-only package, which includes many pieces of Biden’s building better agenda, had long been considered dead after Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., vetoed a larger bill in December. He struck a deal last week with Schumer, pleasantly surprising many of his Democratic colleagues, and has been on a media blitz to sell it ever since.
“It’s a red, white and blue bill,” Manchin recently told MSNBC, calling it “one of the biggest bills” and “the bill we need to fight inflation, to have more energy.”
On Thursday, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., after a week of silence, signed the bill into law after securing some changes to it.
Sinema forced Democrats to remove a provision that would have limited the tax break on carried interest, which allows wealthy hedge funds and investment managers to pay a lower tax rate.
“We had no choice,” Schumer told reporters.
Instead, it was replaced by a new 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks that is expected to bring in $74 billion — five times the carried interest forecast, Schumer said. Sinema also secured $4 billion in funding for drought prevention in Arizona and other western states.
Before its changes, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office were found that the bill would reduce the deficit by about $100 billion over a decade, with the potential for an additional $200 billion in revenue as a result of increased IRS resources for enforcement.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, RS.D., promised “tough votes for Democrats” in the a-rama vote process.
“The question is, ultimately, will these amendments actually be amendments that could change the bill? He could make it better. It may be more difficult to pass in Parliament, who knows?’ Thune said Friday.
Some Democrats worry that Republicans are proposing poison-pill amendments on contentious issues like immigration and crime that could win a majority vote in the Senate — picking off some moderates and vulnerable senators up for re-election this fall — but they alienate other Democrats and disrupt the fragile deal.
“I certainly cannot support it if foreign provisions are passed, particularly derogatory immigration provisions that have nothing to do with the health, welfare and safety of the American people,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., who a week on MSNBC.
On Saturday, some Senate Democrats took to Twitter to urge their colleagues to hold the line and vote against amendments that could jeopardize the package.
“I will vote NO on all amendments, even those I agree with” he tweeted Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn. “This bill makes historic progress on climate action and reducing prescription drug costs. It has 50 votes, and we must stand together to keep it that way.”
Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., agreed with that strategy. “There are quite a few of us who have already tweeted that we will vote no on amendments we like and don’t like,” he told reporters on Saturday.
“There is such a moral urgency … to pass a bill that will address the existential threat of climate change. I think that’s motivating, and I’m seeing even more unity than normal.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said Friday that the amendment process would be unpleasant. “What’s vote-a-rama going to be like? It’s going to be hell,” he said.