Democrats clear first hurdle on healthcare, tax and climate bill

Senate Democrats on Saturday advanced their long-delayed healthcare, tax and climate bill following months of back-and-forth on whether the party would be able to pass major legislation addressing some of their progressive priorities before the midterm election.

The Senate voted along party lines, 50 to 50, to start debate on the measure, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.

Democrats are passing the bill using a special parliamentary procedure called reconciliation, which doesn’t allow for a Republican filibuster.

Democrats, eager to promote the bill’s benefits on the campaign trail this fall, lauded it as historic.

“This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It will reduce inflation. It will lower prescription drug costs. It will fight climate change. It will close tax loopholes and it will reduce the deficit. It will help every citizen in this country and make America a much better place.”

The bill would allow the federal government to begin to negotiate drug prices for Medicare — albeit slowly— and would create incentives and grants to combat the climate crisis, two major political priorities that Democrats are hoping to run on this fall.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which issues cost estimates on legislation, said Saturday it was still working on one due to last-minute changes. An analysis of an earlier version of the bill found it would decrease the deficit by $102 billion over a decade.

For congressional Democrats and President Biden, it would mark a welcome legislative bright spot.

Democrats have been scrambling in recent days to tie up the negotiations — work that continued into Saturday.

Because Democrats are enacting the bill through reconciliation, it has to be reviewed by a nonpartisan Senate official to confirm all elements of the legislation comply with Senate rules. That process has been underway for days and was largely done by midday Saturday.

While Democrats were able to keep most of their bill intact through that process, they had to change the way a cap on rising drug prices will be calculated. It is also unclear whether a $35 cap on patient copayments for insulin will make it through the process.

After Saturday’s vote, lawmakers were expected to begin a lengthy series of votes on amendments to the bill — a process dubbed vote-a-rama. Under the reconciliation process, the minority party can offer unlimited amendments, and it typically takes the opportunity to propose politically contentious ideas designed to block a measure, or at least force the majority to take politically unfavorable votes.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the process would be “like hell,” and that Democrats “deserve this.”

“I’m hoping that we can come up with proposals that will make sense to a few of them and they’ll abandon this jihad they’re on,” he said Friday.

Republicans argue the bill will make inflation worse.

“Democrats want to run through hundreds of billions of dollars in tax hikes and hundreds of billions of dollars in reckless spending,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Saturday.

The CBO estimated the …read more

Source:: The Mercury News


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