Senate Democrats pass budget package, a victory for Biden ::

— Democrats pushed their election-year economic package toward Senate passage on Sunday, a tough compromise less ambitious than President Joe Biden’s original domestic vision but fulfilling the party’s deeply held goals of slowing global warming, controlling pharmaceutical costs and taxing huge corporations. .

The roughly $740 billion package lies ahead of the House, where lawmakers are poised to deliver on Biden’s priorities, a stunning turnaround of a lost and doomed effort that has suddenly roared back into political life. After an overnight session, Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tiebreaking vote, prompting cheers as Senate Democrats tied the bill 51-50.

“Today, Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests,” President Joe Biden said in a statement from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “I ran for president promising to make government work again for working families, and this bill does just that — period.”

Biden, who has had his share of long nights during his three decades as a senator, called into the Senate cloakroom to personally thank staffers for their hard work during a speakerphone vote.

The Speaker requested the House to pass the Bill at the earliest. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her chamber “will move quickly to send this bill to the president’s desk.” A vote is expected in the House on Friday.

“It’s been a long, hard and winding road, but finally, finally we’re here,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said before the final vote. said

“The Senate is making history. I believe the Inflation Act will stand as one of the defining legislative feats of the 21st century,” he said.

Senators engaged in a round-the-clock marathon of voting that began on Saturday and lasted until Sunday afternoon. Democrats shot down about three dozen Republican amendments designed to torpedo the law. Faced with unanimous GOP opposition, 50-50 Democratic unity in the chamber puts the party on course for a morale-boosting victory three months from the election when control of Congress is at stake.

The bill hit a snag in the afternoon over objections to a new 15% corporate minimum tax, which private equity firms and other industries dislike, forcing last-minute changes.

Despite the momentary setback, the “Inflation Relief Act” gives Democrats a campaign-season showcase for action on coveted goals. It includes the largest federal effort ever on climate change — nearly $400 billion — increases out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare by $2,000 a year and expiring subsidies that help 13 million people afford health insurance. The entire package comes with about $300 billion in additional revenue to reduce the deficit, raising corporate taxes and saving from the long-sought goal of allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare.

Just over one-tenth the size of Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion Build Back Better initiative, the new package abandons earlier proposals for universal preschool, paid family leave and expanded child care assistance. That plan collapsed after conservative Sen. Joe. Manchin, DW.Va. opposed it and said it was too expensive and would increase inflation.

Nonpartisan analysts said the 755-page “Inflation Relief Act” would have little effect on rising consumer prices.

Republicans said the new measure would weaken an economy that policymakers are struggling to prevent from slipping into recession. He said the bill’s business taxes would hurt job creation and send prices skyrocketing, making it harder for people to cope with the nation’s worst inflation since the 1980s.

“Democrats have already robbed American families once with inflation, and now their solution is to rob American families a second time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued.

In the ordeal imposed on most budget bills like this one, the Senate endured an overnight “vote-a-rama” of rapid-fire amendments. Schumer, progressives, Manchin and the hawkish centrist Sen. Kirsten Sinema, D-Ariz., each tested the Democrats’ ability to hold together the compromise bill negotiated.

Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. criticized the bill’s shortcomings and offered amendments to further expand the law’s health benefits, but those efforts were defeated. Republicans crafted their own votes to make Democrats look soft on US-Mexico border security and gasoline and energy spending, and like bullies who want to strengthen IRS tax law enforcement.

Before debate began, the bill’s cap on prescription drug prices was watered down by a partisan Senate lawmaker who said a provision that would have imposed costly penalties on drugmakers whose prices exceed inflation should be cut.

The bill’s main protection is for the 180 million people with private health coverage they buy through work or on their own. Under a special procedure that allows Democrats to pass their bill with a simple majority, without the usual 60-vote margin, its provisions must focus more on dollars-and-cents budget numbers than policy changes.

But Democrats’ pharmaceutical pricing language remained the focus. They include letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, penalizing manufacturers for over-inflation of drugs sold to Medicare, and capping out-of-pocket drug costs to beneficiaries at $2,000 a year.

The bill also covers Medicare patients’ insulin, an expensive diabetes drug cost of $35 a month. Democrats wanted to raise the $35 cap on private insurers but that ran afoul of Senate rules. Most Republicans voted to remove it from the package, although in a sign of the political strength of health spending, seven GOP senators joined Democrats in trying to preserve it.

The final cost of the measure was being recalculated to reflect late changes, but overall it would raise more than $700 billion over a decade. The money would come from a 15% minimum tax on a handful of corporations with annual profits above $1 billion, a 1% tax on companies that repurchase their own stock, a boost to IRS tax collections from lower drug costs, and government savings.

Cinema forced Democrats to drop a plan to prevent wealthy hedge fund managers from paying less than the personal income tax rate on their earnings. She also joined with other Western senators to win $4 billion to fight drought in the region.

Several Democratic senators joined a GOP-led effort to exclude some companies from the new corporate minimum tax.

The package follows Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year.

The compromise between the progressives and champions of fossil fuels and the coal industry in their state was most evident on the energy and environmental side.

Clean energy will be boosted with tax credits for buying electric vehicles and building solar panels and wind turbines. There will be home energy rebates, funding to build factories that produce clean energy technologies, and money to promote climate-friendly farming practices and reduce pollution in minority communities.

Manchin won billions to help power plants reduce carbon emissions, as well as requiring more government auctions for oil drilling on federal lands and waters. Party leaders have promised to push separate legislation this fall to speed up permits for energy projects, which Manchin wants to include a nearly completed natural gas pipeline in his state.

Still, environmental groups hailed the road as a milestone. Natural Resources Defense Council president and CEO Manish Bapna said in a statement that “excellent progress has been made.”


Rehoboth, Del. Associated Press writers Chris Majorian in Washington and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

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