WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Sunday passed a sweeping climate change, health care and tax reform package, banding together as a caucus to vote down dozens of Republican amendments in a marathon session that delivered Democrats a legislative victory heading into the midterm election season.
The $739 billion bill named the Inflation Reduction Act will revive key portions of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda — it calls for directing about $370 billion in federal funding to address global warming and gives the federal government’s Medicare program the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices. The measure also would set a new 15% minimum tax on some corporations that earn over $1 billion in profits annually.
The measure passed 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaking vote after nearly 17 hours of debate that started late Saturday night and stretched until Sunday afternoon. Republicans had proposed nearly three dozen amendments looking to derail passage of the bill, but Democrats held together to vote down the proposals.
“It has been a long, tough and winding road, but at last we have arrived. I know it has been a long day and a long night, but we have gotten it done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a Senate floor speech.
Later, in a phone interview with Newsday, he added: "Average Long Islanders are going to benefit tremendously" from the legislation, asserting that it will help drive down energy costs.
Biden in a statement celebrated the vote, and urged the Democrat-controlled U.S. House to pass the bill for his final signature. House lawmakers are set to return for a vote on Friday.
“Senate Democrats sided with American families over special interests, voting to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and everyday energy costs and reduce the deficit, while making the wealthiest corporations finally pay their fair share,” Biden said.
Before the vote, Senators on both sides of the aisle took to the Sunday morning political talk show circuit to defend their respective positions — with Democrats vowing the bill would reduce energy and health care costs for most Americans and Republicans raising concerns that the bill’s new corporate tax requirements would keep corporations from investing and expanding in the United States.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, appearing on ABC’s “This Week” said “we may not see huge impacts on inflation in the first or second year” of the bill’s rollout, but said overall the bill “is going to reduce the costs that hit American families in their pocketbook.”
“Yes, inflation is higher than it should be. But we just got a robust jobs number of more than 500,000 jobs created this past month," Coons said. "Unemployment, the lowest it's been in my lifetime. And I think we've got a strong recovery underway.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), told CNN’s “State of the Union” he believed the bill “is going to make everything worse,” citing his concerns over the corporate tax requirements.
“I voted for a bipartisan infrastructure bill and I voted for gun legislation and I'm not going to vote for this,” Graham said.
Democrats passed the bill under the Senate’s budgetary reconciliation process that allows the chamber to pass legislation with a simple majority instead of the 60-vote threshold for most pieces of legislation.
Schumer has been pressing for a vote over the past week to ensure passage before lawmakers head back to their districts this week for a nearly monthlong recess.
Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — a conservative-leaning Democrat who derailed previous attempts to pass a sweeping infrastructure package focused on climate change, health care and education — surprised lawmakers nearly two weeks ago when they announced they had reached a deal to revive portions of Biden’s previous “Build Back Better” bill in a scaled-back bill.
Republicans and Democrats alike had assumed talks were all but dead after the repeated opposition to Biden’s original $3.5 trillion plan by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), but both lawmakers eventually signed on to the narrower bill that dropped other Democratic priorities including universal prekindergarten and access to paid family leave.
“This bill will kick-start the era of affordable clean energy in America. It is a game-changer. It is a turning point. And it has been a long time incoming,” Schumer said Sunday. “To Americans who’ve lost faith that Congress can do big things, this bill is for you.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a statement said the package would lead to an “economic disaster,” as he blamed the Biden administration for current inflation.
“In President Biden’s America, the average family is either paying thousands of dollars extra per year to tread water or watching their standard of living dissolve before their eyes,” McConnell said.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in an analysis released last week said if passed, the bill will “have a negligible effect on inflation.”
“In calendar year 2023, inflation would probably be between 0.1 percentage point lower and 0.1 percentage point higher under the bill than it would be under current law,” according to CBO’s analysis.
The CBO also determined the bill will reduce the federal deficit by $100 billion over the next decade.
The White House and Senate Democrats have pointed to a letter signed by 126 of the country’s leading economists, including seven Nobel laureates, who contend the bill will put “downward pressure on inflation.”
“This historic legislation makes crucial investments in energy, health care, and in shoring up the nation’s tax system,” states the letter sent to lawmakers last Tuesday. “These investments will fight inflation and lower costs for American families while setting the stage for strong, stable, and broadly-shared long-term economic growth.”