US Senate Democrats on Saturday began a vote on a bill that would address key elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda, tackling climate change, lowering the cost of energy and senior citizens’ drugs and forcing the wealthy to pay more taxes.
Earlier, a Senate rulemaker determined that the lion’s share of the $430bn bill could be passed with only a simple majority, bypassing a filibuster rule requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation and enabling Democrats to pass it over Republican objections, majority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
Democrats hope that the legislation will give a boost to their candidates in the 8 November midterm elections in which Biden’s party is in an uphill battle to retain its narrow control of the Senate and House of Representatives.
“Democrats have received extremely good news,” Schumer said in the statement. “Medicare will finally be allowed to negotiate drug prices … This is a major victory for the American people.“
Medicare is the government health insurance program for people age 65 and older.
There are three main parts to the bill: a 15% minimum tax on corporations, tougher IRS enforcement and a new excise tax on stock buybacks. The legislation has $430 billion in new spending along with raising more than $740 billion in new revenues.
Beside billions of dollars to encourage the production and purchase of more electric vehicles and foster clean energy, the bill would set $4 billion in new federal drought relief funds. The latter is a move that could help the re-election campaigns of Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona.
Republicans have promised to do everything they can to stall or block the bill, with Senator Lindsey Graham on Friday calling the legislation “this jihad they’re on to tax and spend.”
Democrats aim to push the bill through the Senate using an arcane and complicated “reconciliation” procedure allowing passage without any Republican support in the chamber divided 50-50 between the parties, with the Democrats in control because Kamala Harris, the vice-president, can cast a tie-breaking vote.
One provision cut from the bill would have forced drug companies to refund money to both government and private health plans if drug prices rise more quickly than inflation. The Senate arbiter, known as the parliamentarian, ruled that measure could not apply to private industry.
The beginning of the vote kicks off an arduous process that could extend into Sunday or early next week, with senators offering amendment after amendment in a time-consuming “vote-a-rama”.
Senators on the left such as Bernie Sanders are likely to try to expand the scope of the bill to include new programs such as federal subsidies for childcare or home healthcare for the elderly. Republicans have signaled that they will offer plenty of amendments touching on another issue: immigrants coming across the US border with Mexico.