Senate Democrats battle to pass $430 billion climate and drug bill

WASHINGTON, Aug 6 (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Saturday began debating a Democratic bill addressing key items on President Joe Biden’s agenda – tackling climate change, cutting drug costs for seniors and energy, while forcing corporations and the wealthy to pay more taxes.

The debate began after the Senate voted 51 to 50 to go ahead with the legislation. Vice President Kamala Harris broke the tie vote, with all 50 Republicans in opposition.

The Senate was expected to debate the bill for 20 hours before plunging into an arduous and time-consuming amendment process called “vote-a-rama”.

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Democrats and Republicans were on the verge of rejecting each other’s amendments, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer maneuvered to keep his 50-member caucus united behind a months-negotiated bill . If even a single Democrat were to step down, the entire effort would be doomed in the evenly split 50-50 Senate. Read more

Earlier in the day, 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 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation and allow Democrats to override Republican objections.

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 US voters this year.

“The bill, when passed, will achieve all of our goals: fight climate change, reduce health care costs, close tax loopholes abused by the wealthy, and reduce the deficit,” Schumer said in a speech at the Senate.

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. Read more

Democrats said the legislation by 2030 would lead to a 40% reduction in US carbon emissions, which are responsible for climate change.

‘PRICING’

The measure would also allow the public health insurance program Medicare for the elderly to begin negotiating in 2026 with the pharmaceutical industry on the prices of a limited number of prescription drugs in order to reduce costs. It would also impose a cap of $2,000 per year on out-of-pocket drug costs under a Medicare drug program.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell attacked the drug price negotiation provision, comparing it to past attempts at “price fixing” by countries like Cuba, Venezuela and the former Soviet Union.

“Their policy would result in a world where far fewer new drugs and treatments were invented in the first place as companies cut R&D,” McConnell said in a floor speech, referring to research and development.

As senators debated the policies embedded in the bill, its political ramifications were also on display.

In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday, former President Donald Trump predicted fallout for Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, two key Democratic senators: “If this deal passes, they will both lose their next elections.

But Manchin and Sinema are not eligible for re-election until 2024, and many of the bill’s provisions are popular with voters.

The legislation is a scaled-down version of a much larger and more costly measure that many Democrats on the left of the party had hoped to approve last year. The move stalled when Manchin, a centrist, backed down, complaining it would exacerbate inflationary pressures.

The bill calls for billions of dollars to encourage the production of more electric vehicles and promote clean energy, although automakers say the procurement rules will severely limit the number of electric vehicles eligible for credits. tax.

It would also establish $4 billion in new federal drought relief funds, a provision that could help the re-election campaigns of Democratic senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona.

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.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading progressive, criticized the bill for not going far enough and said he plans to propose amendments that would revive a slew of social programs he pushed last year. last, including expanding the number of prescription drugs that Medicare could negotiate prices. on and providing government subsidized dental, vision and hearing aids.

His amendments were expected to fail.

Republicans have signaled they will propose amendments touching on other issues, including screening immigrants crossing the U.S. border with Mexico and improving policing to reduce rising crime rates in U.S. cities since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Reporting by Richard Cowan and Makini Brice; additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici, David Shepardson and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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