Senate Democrats are hoping to clinch their signature climate, tax and health care package by midday on Sunday after the carefully crafted deal survived an all-night GOP offensive.
By mid-Sunday morning, the Senate needed to slog through at least a few more more amendments before party leaders hoped they could finally pass the legislation. And Democrats believed they’d be able to follow through on their effort to cap insulin prices for Medicare, though Republicans are set to challenge a provision that would prevent private insurance from charging more than $35 per month for the drug.
“I’m not sure we’re making any progress that’s significant,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), adding that, after hours of amendment votes, “it would be nice to call it.”
The $700 billion-plus party-line legislation remained unscathed after 10 hours of “vote-a-rama,” the amendment marathon that allows any senator to force a vote on proposed tweaks to the measure. Senate Democrats banded together to fend off more than 20 attempts to change the bill, often voting as a bloc even on portions they support.
One awkward example: Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) argued against an attempt by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to change child tax credit and corporate tax language in the bill, which they actually support, with Brown saying it would “bring down the bill” if they approved it. Sanders was unbowed — even as he lost, 1-97.
“They’re great amendments. I’m very happy and I think it says something that every Democrat and Republican voted against them. It says I’m doing something right,” Sanders said around 8 a.m. on Sunday. “I’m fighting for you. I think that should be the message — not to come up with a convoluted reason you can’t vote for it.”
Sanders predicted a couple more hours of amendments and said he would support the bill on final passage. His vow to back the bill in the end, combined with near-complete unity among Democrats in defeating amendments, steered the legislation to passage under rules that allow them to avoid a filibuster. The House plans to consider the legislation on Friday.
A few more potential threats loomed Sunday, particularly on the legislation’s insulin price cap. But Republicans are only expected to challenge the insulin price cap on private insurance, which could hand a partial victory to Democrats and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) as they also seek to limit skyrocketing insulin prices for Medicare. The GOP effort to strip out the $35 cap on private insurance will play out on the Senate floor later Sunday.
The vote-a-rama is the final episode of a lengthy drama that began more than a year ago with a Democratic budget designed to set the stage for a $3.5 trillion social spending package that could sidestep a filibuster. That vision whittled down over the course of many months to the bill that the Senate is still set to pass later Sunday — though it’s still far larger than the health care-only package Democrats thought they’d get from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) just two weeks ago.
Democrats ultimately preserved the core pieces of their proposal, surviving Republican arguments that parts of the bill did not meet Senate rules that would allow the package to pass under a simple majority vote. The legislation still includes lowering some prescription drug prices, providing more than $300 billion into climate change and clean energy and imposing a 15 percent minimum tax on large corporations, plus a new 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks. The bill also increases IRS enforcement and extends Obamacare subsidies through the 2024 election.
The final bill was carefully negotiated to be able to win support from all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus. Manchin surprised his colleagues late last month when he reached a deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on tax and climate provisions as part of the agreement.
Schumer also made a handful of major changes to appease Sinema, eliminating language that would have tightened a loophole allowing certain investors to pay less in taxes and would have raised $14 billion in revenue. Instead, the pair agreed to add a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks, which is expected to raise $73 billion, while tweaking the corporate minimum tax to appease anxious manufacturers.
And once the full 50-member Democratic Caucus accepted those exacting adjustments, Democrats had to make sure nothing more changed with the bill.
“I want my colleagues to understand what this is really about. These motions … are motions to kill this bill, period,” said Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
During the vote-a-rama, Democrats offered alternative amendments to buy some cover for their own vulnerable members on several GOP proposals. That included a side-by-side debate on Title 42, a polarizing Trump-era policy that placed limits on migration during the pandemic.
Sanders tried to insert provisions that would bolster prescription drug reforms, expand Medicare and create a Civilian Climate Corps, but he failed to attract support from the vast majority of his colleagues. Only Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff joined Sanders in his effort to expand Medicare; Warnock’s own attempt to allow the bill to expand Medicaid to states that have blocked Obamacare’s more generous Medicaid language also failed, 5-94.
On Saturday, the party-line proposal survived Senate vetting of the Medicare portions of its prescription drug reform plan, while Democrats lost ground on a separate pillar that penalizes drug companies for raising prices on individuals with private health insurance. The legislation’s tax and environmental provisions also advanced unscathed.
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