US Senate Democrats push ahead on $430bn drug, energy bill
US Senate Democrats on Saturday embark on one of their most critical missions of Joe Biden's presidency: tackling climate change, lowering the costs of energy and senior citizens' medicine and forcing the wealthy to pay more taxes.
They hope that passing the $430 billion bill will boost Democratic candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives as the November 8 congressional elections approach and inflation remains a top concern among voters.
“We are feeling pretty good,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a Friday press conference. “For years, many in Washington have promised to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our nation only to fall short ... This is a very, very, very big deal.”
Republicans have promised to do everything they can to stall or block the bill, with Senator Lindsey Graham on Friday calling the legislation, “this jihad they’re on to tax and spend.”
But Democrats are betting that they can ram it through the Senate, using an arcane and complicated “reconciliation” procedure allowing passage without any Republican support in a 50-50 split Senate.
Senator Ron Wyden, chair of the finance committee, said through a spokesperson that Democrats had received the needed approval overnight to proceed on the energy portions of the bill.
There was no word yet on whether the Senate's parliamentarian — the arbiter who will decide if Democrats can pass the bill as written over Republican objections — had approved the healthcare provisions.
Saturday will kick off an arduous process that could extend into early next week and will see senators offer amendment after amendment in a time-consuming “vote-a-rama.”
Progressive Democrats, such as Bernie Sanders, are likely to try to expand the scope of the bill to include new programs such as federal subsidies for childcare or home healthcare for the elderly.
Republicans have signalled that they will offer plenty of amendments touching on another voter concern: immigrants coming across the southwestern border with Mexico.
There are three main parts to this bill that initially carried a $430 billion price in new government investments, coupled with more than $740 billion in new revenues, including a 15% minimum tax on corporations, tougher IRS enforcement and a new excise tax on stock buybacks. The final price tag could change.
Beside billions of dollars to encourage the production and purchase of more electric vehicles and foster clean energy, the bill would set $4 billion in new federal drought relief funds. The latter is a move that could help the re-election campaigns of Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona.