Harris breaks 50-50 deadlock to advance landmark climate, tax, health bill

·4 min read

The Senate voted along party lines Saturday afternoon to advance a sweeping bill to reform the tax code, tackle climate change and lower the cost of prescription drugs, taking a big step closer to giving President Biden a major victory before the November midterm elections.

The Senate voted 51-50 to proceed to the 755-page bill, after Vice President Harris arrived at the Capitol to cast the tie-breaking vote.

The vote puts the bill on a trajectory to pass the Senate sometime Sunday, barring an unexpected setback, such as the sudden absence of a Democratic senator.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hailed the bill’s impending passage as a major achievement.

“The time has come for the Senate to begin debate on this historic piece of legislation. The Inflation Reduction Act is a groundbreaking bill for the American people, for families struggling to pay the bills, for seniors struggling to pay for medication, for kids struggling with asthma,” Schumer said on the floor moments before the vote.

“This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades,” he declared, promising it would reduce inflation, lower drug costs, fight climate change and close tax loopholes.

The procedural vote sets up 20 hours of debate to be divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans followed by an open-ended series of amendment votes, known as a vote-a-rama.

Members of both parties, however, predict they will yield most of the time back to move more quickly to considering amendments.

Senate Republicans expect votes on between 40 and 50 amendments.

A final vote will happen sometime Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued the legislation “will kill American jobs and hammer our manufacturing sector” and “have no meaningful impact on global temperatures whatsoever.”

He warned that empowering Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices will hurt research and development in the pharmaceutical industry.

“The policy would bring about a world where many fewer drugs and treatments get invented in the first place,” he said.

Republicans want to inflict as much political damage on vulnerable Democratic incumbents such Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Raphael Warnock (Ga.) by forcing votes on border security, domestic energy production, inflation and crime.

Democrats have their own plan to force Republicans to take a tough vote on capping the out-of-pocket costs of insulin bills at $35 a month.

They expect to challenge a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian against a provision sponsored by Warnock to cap insulin prices. Democrats say Republicans who vote to sustain an objection to the insulin provision are undermining an effort to fight inflation and help Americans with diabetes.

The broader legislation will raise approximately $740 billion in revenue by implementing a 15 percent corporate minimum tax, empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and imposing a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks.

The Senate voted Saturday to begin debate on the Inflation Reduction Act after receiving an updated analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO estimates the bill will reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the next decade.

Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who negotiated the bill, say it will shrink the deficit by more than $300 billion over 10 years.

The corporate minimum tax will raise $258 billion in revenue but will exempt full expensing deductions for businesses across all sectors — a change that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) negotiated with Schumer.

Giving Medicare authority to negotiate lower drug prices is projected to save the government $288 billion over 10 years and the excise tax on stock buybacks will raise $74 billion.

Another $124 billion in revenue will come from improving operations at the IRS and beefing up enforcement of tax compliance.

It would spend $369 billion on energy security and climate change programs estimated to reduce U.S. global warming emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

It would provide money for consumer home energy rebates, grants to make affordable housing more energy efficient and tax credits to accelerate domestic manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines and batteries.

It would provide generous tax credits to buy new and used electric vehicles, though critics of the bill say those credits couldn’t be used immediately as they don’t apply to vehicles with batteries produced in China or dependent on Chinese minerals.

It would extend expiring health insurance premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act another three years at a cost of $64 billion.

A group of Senate Democrats worked Saturday afternoon to persuade Democratic colleagues to vote against supporting any amendments to the bill, as it could upset the delicate compromise negotiated by Schumer and the two centrists who held out for months: Manchin and Sinema.

“I’m not voting for amendments. I’m trying to keep this bill clean and get it out of here. It’s too important.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says he plans to offer an amendment to dramatically expand Medicare’s authority to negotiate lower drug prices, which he says would raise $900 billion over 10 years.

He wants to use the money to expand Medicare by lowering the eligibility age to 60 and extending adding comprehensive dental, vision and hearing benefits.

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