October 4, 2022

WASHINGTON — A divided Senate took a critical step Saturday toward approving Democrats’ plan to tackle climate change, lower health care costs and raise taxes on big corporations, with a tentative vote that cleared the way for enact a major piece of President Biden’s domestic policy. agenda in the coming days.

The measure advanced on a party-line vote of 51 to 50, with all Republicans opposed and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.

The action suggested that Democrats, after more than a year of infighting and arduous negotiations, had finally rallied behind legislation that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars for climate and energy programs, expand Affordable Care Act subsidies and create a new federal initiative to lower the cost of prescription drugs, particularly for older Americans.

A lot from the 755-page legislation it would be paid for by tax increases, which Democrats have said are intended to make the tax code fairer.

The vote put the bill on track to pass the Senate as early as Sunday, with the House expected to pass by the end of the week. That would provide a major boost to Mr. Biden at a time when his popularity is falling and give Democrats a victory in November’s midterm elections, in which their majorities in Congress are at stake.

“The bill, when passed, will accomplish all of our goals: fighting climate change, lowering health care costs, closing tax loopholes abused by the wealthy, and reducing the deficit,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. Senate speech on Saturday. “This is an important victory for the American people and a sad commentary on the Republican Party as they actively fight provisions that lower costs for the American family.”

The hard-won deal, which includes the most substantial investment in history to combat global warming, came after a flurry of intense negotiations with two key Democratic holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Just weeks ago, Mr. Manchin, a conservative-leaning Democrat from a red state, said he could not agree to include climate, energy and tax measures in his domestic policy plan this summer, given the concerns that doing so would worsen inflation. But he and Mr. Schumer stunned lawmakers in both parties late last month with news that they had quietly returned to the negotiating table and reached a deal that included those proposals.

And on Thursday, Ms. Sinema announced that she too would move forward after extracting concessions, including scrapping a provision that would limit a tax break that allows private equity executives and hedge fund managers to pay significantly lower taxes on some income than others I do taxpayers.

Democrats fast-tracked the bill through Congress under the arcane budget process known as reconciliation, which protects some tax and spending measures from a filibuster but also tightly limits what can be included.

Republicans remain unanimously opposed to the measure and have worked feverishly to derail it, angering the resurgence of a plan they thought was dead. Blindsided by the deal between Mr. Schumer and Mr. Manchin, they tried to attack the bill as a big-spending-and-taxing abomination that would worsen inflation and hurt the economy at a precarious time.

“Democrats are misreading the outrage of the American people as a mandate for yet another — yet another — reckless tax and spending spree,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader.

He decried a “tidal wave of Washington meddling” that he said would result from the prescription drug plan, which he said would take “a big interest in the research and development behind new, life-saving medical treatments and therapies.”

But Democrats have rebranded the transformative social safety net and climate plan they once called “Rebuilt Better” as the Lower Inflation Act. Operating with a slim Senate majority that gave its most conservative members strong leverage over the measure, Democrats have rejected hundreds of billions of dollars in proposed spending on domestic programs, as well as many of the tax increases they had made to pay for it. .

Outside estimates have shown the measure would not impose a huge increase in federal spending or impose significant tax increases outside of large corporations, and is projected to reduce the federal budget deficit by the end of the decade.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans from arguing that it would be disastrous for the economy and for Americans. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called it the “Manchin-Schumer Tax Increase of 2022.”

Republicans spent much of last week trying to devise ways to slow or block the legislation, arguing it violated reconciliation rules. (They have said privately, however, that they will refrain from forcing Senate staffers to read the bill aloud, after a similar maneuver last year caused an outcry.)

Senate Rep. Elizabeth MacDonough and her staff worked into the early hours of Saturday morning to determine whether elements of the bill violated those rules, which require any provision to have a direct effect on federal spending or revenue. Early Saturday, he instructed Democrats to narrow the scope of a proposal intended to prevent drug price increases from outpacing inflation, saying a proposed discount could only apply to drugs bought by Medicare, not privately insurance companies.

But top Democrats said most of the legislation remained intact after Ms. MacDonough’s overhaul, including a plan to allow Medicare to directly negotiate the price of prescription drugs for the first time, restrictions on tax breaks for new electric vehicles and a fee intended to limit excess emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas commonly emitted by oil and gas leaks.

In a last-ditch effort to defeat the measure, Republicans prepared as early as Saturday night to begin a fast-paced series of votes on politically toxic amendments — an hours-long ritual known as a vote-a-rama that reconciliation measures must survive in order to pass. . In the evenly divided Senate, all 50 members of the Democratic caucus will have to stand together to fend off any changes proposed by Republicans and win the final vote.

“What will vote-a-rama be like? It’s going to be hell,” promised Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. Of the Democrats, he said: “They deserve this.”

Democrats, too, could still change the bill. They are expected to effectively dare Republicans to remove a proposal to cap insulin costs for all patients, a popular measure that violates budget rules because it would not directly affect federal spending.

And at least one member of the Democratic caucus, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has said he plans to force votes on amendments to improve the law.

“This is a completely inadequate bill, but it begins, to some extent, to address the existential threat facing the planet,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview on Friday. “I am disappointed.”

Most Democrats, however, were trying to rally their colleagues to remain united against any amendments — including those that might be offered by members of their caucus — to preserve the delicate consensus around the bill and make sure that it could become law.

“What I care about is that we get to 50 votes, OK, in the end, and that means we have to keep this deal together,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told reporters. “What matters is that we have a deal and we need to keep that deal intact.”

Lisa Friedman, Stephanie Lai and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed to the report.

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