US Senate Democrats were set to move forward on Saturday with a bill that would tackle key elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda, tackle climate change, lower the cost of energy and medicine for seniors and force the rich to pay more taxes.
A Senate regulator has ruled that the lion’s share of the $430 billion bill can be passed with just a simple majority, bypassing a filibuster rule that requires 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to move most legislation forward and pass the law. Democrats allow it over Republican objections, majority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
Democrats hope the legislation will boost their candidates in the Nov. 8 midterm elections, in which Biden’s party finds itself in an uphill battle to retain its limited 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 great victory for the American people.”
Medicare is the government’s health insurance program for people age 65 and older.
The bill has three main parts: a minimum tax of 15% on corporations, stricter IRS enforcement, and a new excise tax on share buybacks. The legislation has $430 billion in new spending and more than $740 billion in new revenue.
In addition to billions of dollars to encourage the production and purchase of more electric vehicles and promote clean energy, the bill would provide $4 billion in new federal funds for drought relief. The latter is a move that could aid the re-election campaigns of Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona.
Republicans have pledged to do everything they can to slow down or block the bill, and Senator Lindsey Graham on Friday called the legislation “this jihad they’re going to tax and spend.”
The Democrats aim to push the bill through the Senate using a secretive and complicated “conciliation” procedure that allows passage without any support from Republicans in the chamber, split 50-50 between the parties, with Democrats in control because Kamala Harris, the vice president, can cast a casting vote.
One provision that has been cut off the bill would have forced drug companies to pay back money to both state and private health plans if drug prices rise faster than inflation. The Senate arbitrator, known as the Parliamentarian, ruled that the measure could not apply to the private sector.
Saturday begins a grueling process that could extend into 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 bill’s scope to include new programs such as federal grants for childcare or home care for the elderly. Republicans have indicated that they will table numerous amendments addressing a different issue: immigrants crossing the US border into Mexico.