October 5, 2022

The Senate lawmaker on Saturday hit out at Democrats’ plan to curb drug prices but left the rest of the finance bill largely intact as party leaders prepared for first votes on a package that contained many of the top domestic targets. of President Joe Biden.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s nonpartisan rules arbitrator, said lawmakers should remove language that imposes heavy penalties on pharmacists who boost their prices beyond inflation in the private insurance market. Those were the bill’s main protection prices for the roughly 180 million people whose health coverage comes from private insurance, either through work or self-purchased.

Other important provisions remained intact, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly beneficiaries, a longtime goal of Democrats. Penalties on manufacturers for exceeding inflation will apply to drugs sold to Medicare, and there is a $2,000 annual cap on drug costs and free vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries.

Her decisions came as Democrats planned to begin voting in the Senate on Saturday on their broad package on climate change, energy, health care costs, taxes and even deficit reduction. Party leaders said they believe they have the unity they will need to move the legislation through the 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris expected to vote to break ties after all Republicans are expected to oppose the bill. .

“This is an important victory for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the bill, which both parties are using in their campaigns to attribute responsibility for the worst period of inflation in four decades.

“In a time of seemingly impenetrable gridlock, the deflationary act will show the American people that when the moment calls for it, Congress can still take big steps to solve big challenges,” Schumer said. “We’re going to show the American people that, yes, we are able to pass a historic climate package and rein in the pharmaceutical companies and make our tax code fairer.”

In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats are “misreading the outrage of the American people as a mandate for yet another reckless tax and spending spree.” He said Democrats “have already robbed American families once through inflation, and now their solution is to rob American families a second time.”

Eliminating the penalties on pharmacists reduces the incentive for pharmaceutical companies to limit the prices they charge, increasing costs for patients.

Deleting that language would reduce the $288 billion in savings over 10 years that Democrats’ comprehensive drug restrictions are estimated to generate — a reduction of perhaps tens of billions of dollars, analysts said.

Schumer said MacDonough’s decision on the price cap for private insurance was “an unfortunate decision.” But he said the drug pricing language that survived represented “a significant victory for the American people” and that the overall bill “remains largely intact.”

The decision followed a 10-day period that saw Democrats revive key elements of Biden’s seemingly dead agenda. In quick deals with the two most unpredictable Democratic senators — first conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginia, then Arizona centrist Kyrsten Sinema — Schumer put together a broad package that, while a fraction of earlier, larger versions that derailed Manchin , would provide the one achievement in this fall’s congressional elections.

The congressman also signed a fee on excessive emissions of methane, a strong contributor to greenhouse gases, from oil and gas drilling. It also leaves environmental grants to minority communities and other initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del.

He approved a provision requiring union-level wages to be paid if energy efficiency projects qualify for tax credits, and another that would limit tax credits for electric vehicles to those cars and trucks assembled in the United States.

The overall measure faces unanimous opposition from Republicans. However, assuming Democrats fight off an unrelenting “vote-a-rama” of amendments — many designed by Republicans to derail the measure — they should be able to advance the measure in the Senate.

Parliament returns on Friday to vote on the bill.

“What’s the vote-a-rama going to be like. It’s going to be hell,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said Friday of the upcoming GOP amendments. He said that by supporting the Democratic bill, Manchin and Sinema are “encouraging legislation that will make life more difficult for the average person” by driving up energy costs with tax increases and making it harder for companies to hire workers.

The bill offers spending and tax incentives to transition to cleaner fuels and support coal with help to reduce carbon emissions. Expiring subsidies that help millions of people afford private insurance premiums will be extended for three years, and there is $4 billion to help Western states fight the drought.

There will be a new minimum tax of 15% on some companies that earn more than $1 billion a year, but pay far less than the current 21% corporate tax. There would also be a 1% tax on companies buying back their own shares, which was swapped after Sinema refused to back higher taxes on private equity firm executives and hedge fund managers. The IRS budget will be drawn to boost tax collections.

While the final cost of the bill is still being determined, in total it would spend more than $300 billion over 10 years to slow climate change, which analysts say would be the nation’s largest investment in the effort, and billions more in health care. care. It would raise more than $700 billion in taxes and from the government’s drug cost savings, leaving about $300 billion for deficit reduction — a modest bite out of projected multi-trillion-dollar 10-year shortfalls.

Democrats are using special procedures that would allow them to pass the measure without having to achieve the 60-vote majority that legislation often needs in the Senate.

It’s the lawmaker’s job to decide whether parts of the legislation should be withdrawn because they violate those rules, which include the requirement that the provisions be aimed primarily at the federal budget and not at enacting new policy.

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