Senate Democrats passed their signature legislation tackling the climate crisis and prescription drug prices early Sunday morning, sending the legislation to the House of Representatives.
The legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, would be the biggest step the US government has taken to cut domestic emissions at a time when global targets are faltering. It would also allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, limit insulin costs for Medicare beneficiaries and continue subsidies for Obamacare.
The vote came after a marathon series of votes known as a “vote-a-rama” that began late Saturday night and continued well into Sunday afternoon. All 48 Democrats and two independents voted for the legislation along with Vice President Kamala Harris, while all Republicans voted against.
“This is an example of leaders leading and understanding that there are solutions at hand, if people have the will and courage to actually step forward and fix the problem,” Harris said The independent.
The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass if only 9 of the Democrats’ 220 members oppose it. The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the bill into law.
The legislation comes after Democrats have spent more than a year trying to pass Biden’s signature domestic legislation. Mr. Biden initially hoped to pass a massive social spending bill that included spending on an expanded child tax credit; home care for the disabled; expanded hearing coverage for Medicare beneficiaries; Immigration reform; and more robust efforts to combat the climate crisis and promote clean energy. They hoped to pass it along with his bipartisan infrastructure bill.
But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia, announced his opposition legislation known as Build Back Better in December. That led to on-and-off negotiations between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Late last month, Schumer and Manchin announced a deal known as the Inflation Reduction Act, a nod to Manchin’s concerns about rising prices.
It will also increase America’s credibility on the international stage when Mr. Biden plans to go to Egypt for COP27, where he will demand that other major emitters in China, Europe and beyond sharply reduce their own use of fossil fuels.
The bill proposes $369 billion in climate and clean energy investments, including billions of dollars in tax incentives to expand renewable energy, battery storage and nuclear power over the next 10 years.
The legislation also provides tax credits to make it easier to buy electric vehicles, help farmers cut emissions from agriculture, and fund improvements in minority and low-income communities most harmed by climate and environmental pollution.
Several new analyzes of the IRA, by independent policy groups, found it would cut emissions by around 40 percent (below 2005 levels) by the end of the decade. That puts the US within striking distance of Biden’s promise to halve US emissions by 2030.
Some climate activists and environmental groups objected to aspects of the bill that were necessary to get Manchin, who has made a fortune in the state’s coal industry, on board, such as a requirement that the government auction off leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters, including in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska.
Coal and gas plants that use carbon capture technology will also get extended tax credits. Mr. Manchin was given a separate promise that permitting progress would be accelerated on the Mountain Valley gas pipeline in West Virginia.
At the same time, many Democratic senators said they would not vote on any changes to the legislation, recognizing it as the only opportunity to pass any major climate legislation.
Many Democrats also expressed excitement over the fact that it would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. But Senate Rep. Elizabeth MacDonough issued guidance that weakens part of the legislation that would force drug companies to give rebates to Medicare if they raised drug prices higher than inflation.
The parliamentarian dealt another blow to Democrats when she announced that the plan to cap insulin for private insurance patients at $35 did not follow the rules of budget reconciliation. That led to Republicans raising a point of order to remove it from the bill.
Democrats would have needed 60 votes to keep the price of insulin at $35 for private insurance patients in the legislation, but only seven Republicans voted to keep it.
Similarly, Republican Minority Whip John Thune tried to include a waiver of the Democrats’ proposed minimum tax for certain private equity firms as a means of wooing conservative Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. However, the change would have put the legislation at risk in the House because it would have continued a cap on state and local tax credits put in place under Trump’s tax cuts, which many Democrats in New York, New Jersey and California oppose.
Six Democrats joined Sinema, including Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia; Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada; Mark Kelly of Arizona; and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia offered a substitute amendment that passed with all Democratic votes.
Despite the setbacks, Democrats passed the law early Sunday night.
Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, who as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is responsible for electing Democrats and protecting incumbents, said the prescription drug aspect will help Democrats on the campaign trail.
“If you look at the polls it’s like the number one issue for most people in the country right now,” he said The independent during the vote to start the debate on the bill.
Democrats also received a lifeline when Republicans did not raise a point of order to remove the part of the legislation that would allow non-Medicare patients to cap their insulin costs.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who criticized the bill as inadequate, proposed an amendment to allow Medicare to negotiate all drug prices instead of just 10 drugs initially by 2024 and 20 drugs by 2029.
“I think it’s absolutely critical that this Congress, at least on one party, say that we understand the crises that working families face and that we stand with them and we vote for some serious changes to improve this bill , he told reporters on Saturday afternoon.
But Sanders’ amendment on drug prices, as well as an amendment to include dental, hearing and vision care in Medicare coverage, both failed with most Democrats opposing the legislation.
Despite the internal dissent, many Democrats hailed the passage of the bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said it showed Democrats could take on special interest groups.
“I mean, this is the first time when you think about this, we took on, we took on the drug companies that never lose. We took on the oil companies that never, rarely lose, and we took on Wall Street and we won on all wood and how important it is, he said.