Senate on track to take key vote Saturday to advance Democrats’ sweeping health care and climate bill
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.
The vote has not yet been scheduled, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Saturday shortly after noon Eastern time that “in a few hours” the chamber would “formally begin the process of passing the Inflation Reduction Act.”
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.
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 has to 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.
Schumer announced Saturday that after undergoing the parliamentarian’s review, the bill “remains largely intact.”
“The bill, when passed, will meet all of our goals — fighting climate change, lowering health care costs, closing tax loopholes abused by the wealthy and reducing the deficit,” the New York Democrat said.
In a key ruling, the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, 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 — imposing 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 aide said.
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 intact several climate measures 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.”
What happens after the bill faces its first key vote
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.
It’s not yet clear how much of the allotted debate time each side will use, but some Republicans are signaling they won’t try to use all of it. And Democrats are expected to yield back some of their time.
When asked if he plans to use a lot of debate time, which could delay final Senate passage of the bill, GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said, “Probably not.”
Another Republican senator, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, said Saturday that he wouldn’t force the Senate clerks to read the full bill, as any senator could request under the rules. Johnson forced a reading of the American Rescue Plan legislation during the budget process last year, which delayed the vote on the bill.
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, a final vote could potentially take place as soon as the early hours of Sunday morning.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, who has been recovering from hip surgery, returned to the Senate on Saturday. His return is imperative for Democrats as they need the votes of all 50 members of their conference to move forward with the bill.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, is also back in the Senate following his absence this past week after testing positive for Covid-19.
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.
How the bill addresses the climate crisis
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 analyses — 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 isn’t 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.”
Key health care and tax policy in the bill
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 pare back how companies can deduct depreciated assets from their taxes. The details remain unclear.
However, Sinema nixed her party’s effort to tighten the carried interest loophole, which allows investment managers to treat much of their compensation as capital gains and pay a 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 aide.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Jessica Dean, Manu Raju, Ella Nilsen, Tami Luhby, Katie Lobosco and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.