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The Democrats’ big climate, health care and tax package removes the big hurdle for the Senate

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WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Saturday to pass a sweeping climate and economic bill with the support of all 50 Democrats, bringing long-stalled elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda one step closer to reality.

The procedural vote on the filibuster-proof package was 51-50, with all Republicans opposing the motion to start the debate and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the casting vote. If that support lasts, it will be enough to pass the bill through the Senate and send it to the House of Representatives in the coming days.

The legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act, includes major expenditures to combat climate change and expand health care coverage, paid for with savings on prescription drugs and corporate taxes. It is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in deficit reduction.

“This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades,” said Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., on the floor before the vote.

“It’s going to mean a lot to the families and the people of our country,” Harris told NBC News as she arrived to break the 50-50 tie.

The procedural vote, during a rare weekend session, kicks off several hours of debate, followed by a “vote-a-rama” — a process in which senators can introduce virtually unlimited amendments that require a simple majority of votes to pass. .

The legislation is not subject to the filibuster — it is pursued through a special process called reconciliation, which allows Democrats to pass it themselves. But the process involves limits; the policies included in the bill must be related to expenditures and taxes and the legislation must comply with a strict set of fiscal rules. It’s the same process the Democrats used to approve the US bailout in 2021 and the Republicans used to push through Trump’s tax cuts of 2017.

Before Saturday’s vote, the Senate MP ruled that key Democratic provisions on clean energy and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices could and should be included in the inflation package, he said. the Democratic leaders.

“While there was an unfortunate statement that the inflation discount is more limited,” Schumer said, “the overall program remains intact and we are one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions of Americans.”

The Democrat-only package, which includes several parts of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, was considered dead long after Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., rejected a larger bill in December. He struck a deal with Schumer last week, a pleasant surprise to many of his Democratic colleagues, and has been in a media frenzy ever since to sell it.

“It’s a red-white-blue bill,” Manchin recently told MSNBC, calling it “one of the biggest laws” and “the bill we need to fight inflation, to have more energy.”

On Thursday, after a week of silence, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., signed the bill after making some changes to it.

Sinema forced Democrats to remove a provision that would have limited the interest-based tax break, allowing wealthy hedge fund and investment managers to pay a lower tax rate.

“We had no choice,” Schumer told reporters.

Instead, it was replaced by a new 1% share repurchase tax expected to raise $74 billion — five times the carry-rate provision, Schumer said. Sinema also received $4 billion in drought prevention funding in Arizona and other western states.

Before its changes, the impartial Congressional Budget Office found it that the bill would reduce the deficit by about $100 billion over a decade, with additional potential for $200 billion in revenue from bolstering the IRS’s enforcement resources.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, RS.D., promised “hard votes for Democrats” in the vote-a-rama process.

“The question is, will those amendments ultimately be amendments that could change the bill? Can make it better. Might make it harder to pass the House, who knows?” Thune said Friday.

Some Democrats are concerned about Republicans proposing poison pill amendments on controversial issues like immigration and crime, which could win a majority vote in the Senate — electing some moderates and vulnerable senators to be re-elected this fall — but alienate other Democrats and disrupt the fragile agreement.

“I certainly cannot support the passing of strange provisions, especially pejorative immigration provisions that have nothing to do with the health, welfare and safety of the American people,” Senator Bob Menendez, DN.J., said this week. on MSNBC.

On Saturday, a handful of Senate Democrats took to Twitter, urging their colleagues to hold the line and vote down amendments that could jeopardize the package.

“I vote NO to all amendments, even those with which I agree” tweeted sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn. “This bill makes historic progress on climate action and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. It has 50 votes and we need to stick together to keep it that way.”

sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., agreed with that strategy. “There are some of us who have already tweeted that we are going to vote no on amendments we like and dislike,” he told reporters on Saturday.

“There’s such a moral urgency…to get a bill across the line that’s going to tackle the existential threat of climate change. I think that’s motivating and I see even more unity than usual.”

sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said Friday the change process would be unpleasant. “How will vote-a-rama be? It will be hell,” he said.


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