The Senate is on track to take a key vote on Saturday to advance Democrats’ sweeping health care and climate bill toward final passage – and the package could pass the Senate as soon as this weekend.
The bill – named the Inflation Reduction Act – would represent the largest climate investment in US history and make major changes to health policy by giving Medicare the power for the first time to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs and extending expiring health care subsidies for three years. The legislation would impose new taxes to pay for it.
The package is the product of painstaking negotiations and will give Democrats a chance to achieve major policy objectives ahead of the upcoming midterm elections. Senate Democrats are using a special process to pass the package without Republican votes.
Once the legislation has passed in the Senate, it would next need to be approved by the House of Representatives before President Joe Biden could sign it into law.
The Senate is expected to take the first procedural vote to proceed to the bill sometime on Saturday. A simple majority is required for the motion to proceed.
Democrats control the narrowest possible majority and only 50 seats in the Senate, but are expected to be united to advance the bill in the initial procedural vote.
Arizona Sen. Kyrstena on Thursday night critical support after party leaders agreed to change new tax proposals, indicating she would “move forward” on the sweeping economic package.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has also played a key role in shaping the legislation – which is only moving forward after Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a deal at the end of July, a major breakthrough for Democrats after earlier negotiations had stalled out.
Senate Democrats only need a simple majority for final passage of the bill since they are using a process known as reconciliation, which allows them to avoid a Republican filibuster and corresponding 60-vote threshold.
In order to pass a bill through the reconciliation process, however, the package must comply with a strict set of budget rules. The Senate parliamentarian must decide whether the provisions in the bill meet the rules to allow Democrats to use the filibuster-proof budget process to pass the legislation along straight party lines.
In a key ruling, the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has allowed a major component of the Democrats’ prescription drug pricing plans to move ahead – giving Medicare the power to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs for the first time.
But MacDonough narrowed another provision aimed at lowering drug prices – penalties on drug companies if they increase their prices faster than inflation. Democrats had wanted the measure to apply both to Medicare and the private insurance market. But the parliamentarian ruled the inflation cap could only apply to Medicare, a Democratic aid said.
Still, Democrats hailed the ruling, with Schumer saying that “the overall program remains intact.”
Democrats are waiting on new cost estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to see how the ruling affects their deficit projections. It’s likely that the curtailed drug provision would somewhat limit the package’s deficit reduction.
Meanwhile, MacDonough ruled to keep several climate measures intact from the Environmental and Public Works Committee in the reconciliation bill, including a methane fee that would apply to oil and gas producers leaking the potent greenhouse gas methane above a certain threshold.
Earlier Saturday, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon announced that the clean energy tax portion of the bill “adheres to Senate rules, and important provisions to ensure our clean energy future is built in America have been approved by the parliamentarian.”
Schumer has yet to decide the exact time he plans to kick off debate this weekend, according to a senior Democratic aid. The timing of that vote is key because it will kick off the process and will determine when the bill will ultimately get its final vote. If Schumer waits to hold that first vote to open debate, he could push back the rest of the votes on the bill until later Saturday or even all day Sunday.
The reason why Democratic leaders haven’t decided yet is that they were waiting for the parliamentarian’s rulings. While they don’t need her to rule before the first procedural vote, the goal of Democrats is to make any changes she requests before the process begins, the aide said. As a result, the timing of votes on amendments and final passage of the bill is very much in flux.
If the first procedural vote to proceed to the bill gets the backing of all 50 members of the Democratic caucus, which it is expected to, there would then be up to 20 hours of debate evenly divided between the two parties, though some of that time could be yielded back to speed up the process.
Following time for debate, there would be a process colloquially referred to on Capitol Hill as a “vote-a-rama” – a marathon series of amendment votes with no time limit that must run its course before the final vote can take place.
Republicans will be able to use the vote-a-rama to put Democrats on the spot and force politically tough votes. The process typically stretches overnight and into the early hours of the next morning. It’s not yet clear exactly when the vote-a-rama will begin, but it could start as early as Saturday evening. If that happens, the final vote could potentially take place as soon as the early hours of Sunday morning.
The House is poised to come back to take up the legislation on Friday, August 12, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office.
For a party that failed to pass major climate legislation over 10 years ago, the reconciliation bill represents a major, long-fought victory for Democrats.
The nearly $370 billion clean energy and climate package is the largest climate investment in US history, and the biggest victory for the environmental movement since the landmark Clean Air Act. It also comes at a critical time; this summer has seen punishing heat waves and deadly floods across the country, which scientists say are both linked to a warming planet.
Analysis from Schumer’s office – as well as multiple independent analyzes – suggests the measures would reduce US carbon emissions by up to 40% by 2030. Strong climate regulations from the Biden administration and action from states would be needed to get to Biden’s goal of cutting emissions 50% by 2030.
The bill also contains many tax incentives meant to bring down the cost of electricity with more renewables, and spur more American consumers to switch to electricity to power their homes and vehicles.
Lawmakers said the bill represents a monumental victory and is also just the start of what’s needed to combat the climate crisis.
“This is not about the laws of politics, this is about the laws of physics,” Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii told CNN. “We all knew coming into this effort that we had to do what the science tells us what we need to do.”
The bill would empower Medicare to negotiate prices of certain costly medications administered in doctors’ offices or purchased at the pharmacy. The Health and Human Services secretary would negotiate the prices of 10 drugs in 2026, and another 15 drugs in 2027 and again in 2028. The number would rise to 20 drugs a year for 2029 and beyond.
This controversial provision is far more limited than the one House Democratic leaders have backed in the past. But it would open the door to fulfilling a longstanding party goal of allowing Medicare to use its heft to lower drug costs.
Democrats are also planning to extend the enhanced federal premium subsidies for Obamacare coverage through 2025, a year later than lawmakers recently discussed. That way they wouldn’t expire just after the 2024 presidential election.
To boost revenue, the bill would impose a 15% minimum tax on the income large corporations report to shareholders, known as book income, as opposed to the Internal Revenue Service. The measure, which would raise $258 billion over a decade, would apply to companies with profits over $1 billion.
Concerned about how this provision would affect certain businesses, particularly manufacturers, Sinema has suggested that she won changes to the Democrats’ plan to stop back how companies can deduct depreciated assets from their taxes. The details remain unclear.
However, Sinema nixed her party’s effort to tighten the interest loophole, which allows investment managers to treat much of their compensation as capital gains and pay at 20% long-term capital gains tax rate instead of income tax rates of up to 37%.
The provision would have lengthened the amount of time investment managers’ profit interest must be held from three years to five years to take advantage of the lower tax rate. Addressing this loophole, which would have raised $14 billion over a decade, had been a longtime goal of congressional Democrats.
In its place, a 1% excise tax on companies’ stock buybacks was added, raising another $74 billion, according to a Democratic aid.
This story has been updated with additional developments.