Democratic Senate passes long-awaited climate, tax, and healthcare bill

 Chuck Schumer

Democratic Senate passes long-awaited climate, tax, and healthcare bill

Senate Democrats passed their health care, tax, and climate package on Sunday afternoon, handing a long-awaited victory to President Joe Biden even as the bill ran into some last-minute hurdles.

In a vote of 51 to 50, Senate Democrats approved their party line package after an amendment process stretched for more than 15 hours. The Democrats fought off most of the GOP's efforts to change their shaky deal, but they made a change just before the last law was passed that amended minimum corporate tax provisions. "This bill will start the era of affordable clean energy in America; it's a game changer.

The Senate's passage of the bill marks the end of more than a year of bipartisan negotiations. And while the package is much smaller than the $3.5 trillion legislation that Democrats originally envisioned. 

The core of the legislation includes:

  • Slashing some prescription drug prices.
  • Saving more than $300 billion for climate change and clean energy and imposing a minimum 15 percent tax on large corporations.
  • A new 1 percent selective tax on share buybacks.

The bill also increases IRS enforcement and extends Obamacare support until the 2024 election.

Efforts by Senate Democrats to pass climate care, tax, and health care packages leaped at midday Sunday as Republican senators sought to pursue an amendment with Senator Kirsten Sinema (D-Arizona) to change the minimum corporate tax threshold in the legislation.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune has proposed an amendment that would exempt private equity firms from the new minimums for Democratic corporate taxes, which would be paid with a one-year extension of the caps and local tax deductions. Specifically, Thun wanted to roll back a provision that could sweep some private equity firms and the companies they own into the minimum corporate tax rate of 15 percent included in the bill.

Cinema and six other Democrats supported this amendment, which led to its passage. Four Democrats — Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire — are all running for re-election in 2022.

But many Democrats opposed using state and local tax cuts as a source of revenue. This prompted Democrats to adopt a later amendment from Senator Mark Warner (D-Va) that would pay for change by extending existing limits on how some companies can write off their losses for another two years.

"It's not my first choice. But it was fine. Overall, this package is so good that I will not deal with it. It's historic," said Senator Debbie Stabeno (D-Michigan).

In addition to the Thune amendment, the failure of Democrats to maintain a ceiling on commercial insulin prices in the bill was the most notable blow during the GOP amendments merger.

Those efforts by Senate Republicans were some of the few setbacks in Democrats' successful plans to pass a climate, tax, and health care package. Although the Republican Party has effectively eliminated a $35 per month cap on private market insulin prices, the Democrats' goal to lower Medicare insulin prices is now expected to become law. They have also been partially defeated in their remarkable efforts to reduce the costs of some prescription drugs on the commercial market.

Even the blow to the insulin proposal brought partisan legislation worth more than $700 billion largely intact during the infamous Senate vote. Senate Democrats have banded together to stave off more than 20 attempts to change the law, often voting as a bloc even on the parts they support.

The series of unlimited adjustments was the latest episode in a long drama that began more than a year ago with a Democratic budget designed to pave the way for a $3.5 trillion social spending package that could avoid disruption.

The final bill was carefully negotiated to win the support of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic.

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