The U.S. Senate voted along party lines Saturday night to proceed with debate on Democrats’ sweeping energy, health care and tax bills, clearing a major hurdle to passage.
The Vote 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tielet the room debate and vote on amendments for the measure and showed he had enough Democratic support to overcome unified Republican opposition.
“We will show the American people that, yes, we are capable of passing a historic climate package, reining in pharmaceutical companies and making our tax code fairer,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote. “We are able to make big promises and work hard to deliver on them as well.
“This is one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching bills to come before Congress in decades,” added the New York Democrat. “It will help almost every citizen in this country and make America a much better place.”
As expected, all Republicans voted against the measure. Republicans inside and outside the Senate criticized the measure for spending too much during a recession while doing little to address consumer inflation, which they say is the main issue facing Americans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell focused his remarks on the measure’s provisions allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of some prescription drugs, saying it would lead to a drastic reduction in research and development efforts in the private sector.
“Democrat policy would not bring about some paradise where we have all the amazing new innovations that we would have had anyway, but at lower prices,” he said. “Their policy would bring about a world where far fewer new drugs and treatments are invented in the first place, as companies cut back on R&D.”
The White House said Saturday that President Joe Biden’s administration “strongly supports” the bill.
“This legislation will lower health care, prescription drug, and energy costs, invest in energy security, and make our tax code fairer—all while fighting inflation and reducing the deficit,” the policy statement said of the administration.
The vote opened a rare weekend Senate session — while the chamber was scheduled to be on recess in August — that is expected to include up to 20 hours of debate and consideration of 40 to 50 amendments in an “a-rama vote.”
Depending on the length of the debate and amendment votes, the final vote is expected on Sunday or Monday.
The bill, negotiated primarily by Schumer and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III with additional changes made at the behest of Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, would spend nearly $370 billion on clean energy programsallow Medicare to negotiate certain drug prices starting in 2026 and change the tax code and strengthen internal revenue enforcement to bring in more than $400 billion in new revenue over 10 years.
On July 29 analysis from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania found that the bill would have a negligible impact on inflation.
After negotiating with Sinema and bringing the bill to the Senate floor to ensure all provisions qualify for consideration under the budget deal, Democrats released a longer updated account of 755 pages minutes before the vote to start the debate on Saturday.
The reconciliation process allows Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority, instead of the usual 60-vote threshold.
The CBO sent Schumer incomplete score of the updated bill on Saturday. The estimate showed that seven of the eight spending sections would increase the deficit by $115 over 10 years. It did not include revenue projections.
Among the late changes in the bill was an addition of $4 billion to deal with western droughts.
Western Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Mark Kelly of Arizona and Michael Bennet of Colorado announced that they have secured funding for the Bureau of Reclamation to address droughts in Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.
“The Western United States is experiencing an unprecedented drought, and it is critical that we have the resources we need to support our states’ efforts to combat climate change, conserve water resources, and protect the Colorado River Basin,” they said in a joint statement. statement.
Democrats also added a provision to cap on the price of insulin for Americans to $35 starting in 2024. The insulin language, however, may be challenged by Republicans on the floor.
Another provision, promoted by Sen. Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and included in the original draft of the bill, would permanently to expand the Black Lung Disability Trust, which provides monthly payments and medical benefits to disabled miners who developed black lung disease while working in coal mines.
Lower prescription drug costs and tax code changes more than offset the bill’s spending, reducing the deficit by about $100 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The additional IRS enforcement will bring the total deficit reduction to about $300 billion.
Those predictions haven’t stopped Republicans from criticizing the bill as a “tax and spend” measure.
Deficit reduction will amount to less than 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product over 10 years, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, said Friday.
“That’s going to be a total rounding error,” he said. “Well, that’s what they use to justify and that’s their strongest argument, it’s a pretty weak strong argument.”
Force hard votes
Most of the amendments to the Democratic-authored bill are expected to come from Republicans, some with the express purpose of forcing Democrats into tough policy positions ahead of the November elections.
GOP conference chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said Republicans will propose amendments on immigration, crime, inflation and energy policy.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said votes on the amendment would be “like hell.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said the House will return from its August recess to vote Friday on a Senate-passed bill.