The package aims to confront climate crisis, control health care costs, and tax corporations.
Democrats pushed their election-year economic package to Senate passage, a hard-fought compromise less ambitious than President Joe Biden’s original domestic vision but one that still meets deep-rooted party goals of slowing global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing immense corporations.
The estimated $740 billion package heads next to the House, where lawmakers are poised to deliver on Biden's priorities, a stunning turnaround of what had seemed a lost and doomed effort that suddenly roared back to political life. Cheers broke out as Senate Democrats held united, 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote after an all-night session.
Senators engaged in a round-the-clock marathon of voting that began on Saturday and stretched late into Sunday afternoon. Democrats swatted down some three dozen Republican amendments designed to torpedo the legislation.
The bill ran into trouble midday over objections to the new 15 percent corporate minimum tax that private equity firms and other industries disliked, forcing last-minute changes.
Despite the momentary setback, the “Inflation Reduction Act” gives Democrats a campaign-season showcase for action on coveted goals. It includes the largest-ever federal effort on climate change — close to $400 billion — caps out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare to $2,000 a year and extends expiring subsidies that help 13 million people afford health insurance. By raising corporate taxes and reaping savings from the long-sought goal of allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare, the whole package is paid for, with some $300 billion extra revenue for deficit reduction.
Barely more than one-tenth the size of Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion Build Back Better initiative, the new package abandons earlier proposals for universal preschool, paid family leave and expanded child care aid. That plan collapsed after conservative Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, opposed it, saying it was too costly and would fuel inflation.
Inflation Reduction Act
Nonpartisan analysts have said the 755-page “Inflation Reduction Act” would have a minor effect on surging consumer prices.
Republicans said the new measure would undermine an economy that policymakers are struggling to keep from plummeting into recession. They said the bill's business taxes would hurt job creation and force prices skyward, making it harder for people to cope with the nation's worst inflation since the 1980s.
In an ordeal imposed on most budget bills like this one, the Senate had to endure an overnight “vote-a-rama” of rapid-fire amendments.
It was the bill's chief protection for the 180 million people with private health coverage they get through work or purchase themselves. Under special procedures that will let Democrats pass their bill by simple majority without the usual 60-vote margin, its provisions must be focused more on dollar-and-cents budget numbers than policy changes.
But the thrust of Democrats' pharmaceutical price language remained. That included letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly recipients, penalizing manufacturers for exceeding inflation for pharmaceuticals sold to Medicare and limiting beneficiaries out-of-pocket drug costs to $2,000 annually.
The bill also caps Medicare patients' costs for insulin, the expensive diabetes medication, at $35 monthly. Democrats wanted to extend the $35 cap to private insurers but it ran afoul of Senate rules. Most Republicans voted to strip it from the package, though in a sign of the political potency of health costs seven GOP senators joined Democrats trying to preserve it.
The measure's final costs were being recalculated to reflect late changes, but overall it would raise more than $700 billion over a decade.
The money would come from a 15 percent minimum tax on a handful of corporations with yearly profits above $1 billion, a 1 percent tax on companies that repurchase their own stock, bolstered IRS tax collections and government savings from lower drug costs.