Senate Democrats have passed their sweeping tax, health care and climate change legislation after a marathon night of voting, with Vice President Harris casting the decisive vote to break a 50-50 deadlock and send the package to the House.
The long-awaited $740 billion bill would raise taxes on corporations, tackle climate change, lower prescription drug costs and reduce the deficit.
The bill was approved on Sunday afternoon after a full night and morning in which senators worked nonstop on the consideration of amendments to the legislation. Democrats generally stuck together to defeat GOP amendments that might have scuttled the bill.
A last-second hiccup occurred when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) backed an amendment that extended a cap on on state and local tax (SALT) deductions that was a key feature of the 2017 Trump tax cut bill. It was seen as endangering the bill because the ceiling on the deduction hurts many households in blue states and districts.
Seven Democrats ended up backing the amendment offered by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), but any damage was undone by the immediate passage of another amendment that replaced the SALT cap extension with a different revenue stream.
As the vote on final passage took place, several Democrats offered hugs to Sinema, who had been involved in a number of negotiations over the bill in the last several days that some worried could topple the package.
Democratic senators also applauded their staff, who were seated at the back of the chamber.
Once seen as all but dead, the bill came back to life last week after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) reached a deal that narrowed the more than $3 trillion legislation and renamed it the Inflation Reduction Act.
Sinema reached a separate agreement with Schumer on Thursday, giving Democrats their 50th vote and paving the way for the party to steer the legislation through the Senate using special budget rules that prevented the GOP from killing it with a filibuster.
The House is set to reconvene at the end of the week to vote on the package. Final passage by the House would send it to the White House for President Biden’s signature less than three months before the midterm elections.
Biden and Democrats hope it sweetens their changes of holding their House and Senate majorities by exciting a disenchanted Democratic base, while Republicans are expected to attack the spending as unnecessary and misguided.
A vote-a-rama on the bill started just before midnight Saturday as Democrats stuck together to defeat a barrage of Republican-sponsored amendments designed to put the majority party on the spot.
One such amendment sponsored by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) would have pulled $1 million from the Affordable Care Act to maintain the Title 42 health order denying migrants seeking asylum entry into the United States.
Democrats defeated another amendment by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to strike a 16.4 cent a barrel tax on imported petroleum products and crude oil refined in the United States.
A third amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) would have barred the IRS from auditing individuals and business owners with income under $400,000.
The vote capped a long, grueling process that began more than a year ago when Senate Democrats began negotiations to enact the priorities of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.
Over the past year, many of the president’s most ambitious social spending priorities were cast aside because of the opposition of Manchin and Sinema. At two points, the negotiations collapsed entirely amid angry recriminations.
In the end, Democrats rallied around a bill to raise more than $300 billion in new tax revenue from wealthy corporations, substantially reduce global-warming emissions by 2030, and give Medicare broad new power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.
“I thank all my colleagues who have dedicated their blood, sweat and tears towards shaping this outstanding legislation. This is one of the most comprehensive and impactful bills Congress has seen in decades,” Schumer said on the floor.
Democrats say the bill will reduce the deficit by nearly $300 billion, but Republicans say it will have a negligible impact on inflation.
“Sounds like a bill that’s going to address the number one problem facing our nation, which is inflation, and then you actually look at the bill’s contents and will discover that the bill will do nothing to reduce inflation,” said Thune.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the legislation will reduce the deficit by $90 billion over 10 years.
A Democratic aide, however, said CBO recognizes the legislation will likely increase tax revenues by more than $200 billion by beefing up Internal Revenue Service programs and enforcement of tax compliance.
Many Democratic lawmakers were thrilled to reach a deal on a $369 billion energy security and climate package, especially after talks between Schumer and Manchin collapsed during a heated exchange on July 14.
Democrats last month were prepared to move a slimmed-down package consisting of just prescription drug reform and a two-year extension of expiring health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
But then Manchin met with Schumer on July 18 to revive the negotiations and within days crafted a bill that provided tens of billions of dollars in incentives for green energy technology and energy efficiency and penalties on fossil fuels, such as a fee on methane emissions and a tax on foreign oil imports.
It provides $4,000 and $7,500 tax credits to buy used and new electric vehicles but doesn’t allow them to be used for vehicles with batteries made from Chinese processed minerals.
It is expected to reduce climate-warming emissions by 40 percent over the next decade.
“I can’t stop talking to my kids about the climate provisions,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “This is the first time they’ve been legitimately excited about my job. We really owe to the next generation to get this right and a lot of young people in this country were developing an acute sense of hopelessness that adults weren’t taking seriously the climate crisis.”
Republicans argued the legislation would have little impact on rising global temperatures and wind up forcing to pay more for gas because of the revived tax on foreign oil.
Graham called the tax on oil imports a “vampire tax” because it was eliminated in 1995 and now is coming back from the dead.
“This bill imposes a new gas tax of 16.4 cents per barrel on all imported petroleum products and crude oil refined in America,” Graham said. “This creates new gas taxes for the American consumer in the name of climate change.”
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) expressed deep disappointment with the prescription drug reform component of the bill. He said it should have done more to empower Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.
But other Democrats rejected Sanders’s view, arguing the reform would set a powerful new precedent by giving the federal government more influence over the market.
“There is a reason why big PhRMA is fighting this so hard. They know once you put negotiation, embedded into law, there will be no turning back. That’s what this is all about,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who helped craft the prescription drug reform piece. “This is a seismic shift between government and this lobby.”
Sanders offered an amendment to require Medicare to pay no more than the Department of Veterans Affairs for prescription drugs. His amendment failed by a lopsided vote of 1-99, with Sanders casting the only “yes” vote.
Another Sanders amendment to extend a $300-a-month child tax credit and pay for it by raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent failed by vote of 1-97. Only Sanders voted for it.
The legislation includes a three-year extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies at a cost of $64 billion.
The legislation will raise $258 billion over 10 years by imposing a 15 percent corporate minimum tax on companies with over $1 billion in profits and require companies to follow generally accepted accounting principles when reporting income to the IRS.
Sinema won a significant concession from Schumer by shielding manufacturing companies from losing their ability to fully write off capital expenditures because of the 15 percent minimum tax. That shrunk the projected revenue from the proposal from $313 billion to $258 billion.
Schumer also had to drop a proposal to close the carried interest tax loophole, which lets asset managers pay a favorable tax rate, to secure Sinema’s vote.
But the Democratic leader made up for the lost revenue by adding a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks, which will raise an estimated $74 billion.
“I hate stock buybacks. I think they’re one of the most self-serving things that corporate America does,” the Democratic leader explained to reporters Friday.
Republicans argued the taxes on corporations would dampen economic growth.
“I don’t think I need to tell anyone what happens when you raise taxes on businesses, particularly when the economy is shrinking. You get less growth, lower wages and fewer jobs,” Thune said.
This story was updated at 3:25 p.m.