Senate inches toward passage of Inflation Reduction Act amid marathon debate – The Washington Post


Senate Democrats were poised on Sunday to approve a sprawling bill to combat climate change, lower health-care costs, revise the tax code and reduce the deficit, after toiling through the night and into the morning to overcome staunch Republican opposition.

More than 12 hours into a slow-moving debate, party lawmakers appeared on track to deliver the political centerpiece of President Biden’s long-stalled economic agenda. The looming vote marked an astonishing coda to months of infighting in the Democratic ranks among liberals pushing ambitious economic reforms and the more cautious centrists.

Dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the proposal makes good on Democrats’ years-old pledge to try to reduce seniors’ prescription drug costs. It also authorizes the largest-ever single burst of spending to tackle global warming, totaling roughly $370 billion, with the goal of boosting clean energy and reducing planet-warming emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

In part by tweaking federal tax laws — chiefly to target tax cheats and some billion-dollar companies that pay nothing in U.S. taxes — the bill would raise more than enough money to cover the new spending. Democrats said the proposals also would generate an additional $300 billion for reducing projected budget deficits over the next 10 years. But they did not furnish a final estimate of the bill’s fiscal effects.

“This historic bill will reduce inflation, lower costs, fight climate change, and it’s time to move this nation forward,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said early in the debate.

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As they have for months, Republicans took to the Senate floor for hours to charge that the measure would worsen inflation, which is rising at the fastest rate in four decades. They painted its tax increases as a threat to workers and their wages, even though the bill would not raise tax rates for individuals, and derided its proposed increase in funding for tax collectors at the Internal Revenue Service.

“It does nothing to bring the economy out of stagnation and recession, but rather, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 gives us higher taxes, more spending, higher prices and an army of IRS agents,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), the top Republican on the tax-focused Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans soon began offering a battery of amendments seeking to undermine the bill — or force Democrats to take politically difficult votes. Some angled to limit federal authority to regulate emissions; others offered proposals to toughen border enforcement. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) specifically sought to preserve a public-health order issued earlier in the pandemic that restricted border crossings, describing it in a speech as the “last line of defense that our border patrol agents have to protect our nation.”

But Lankford’s amendment, targeting Title 42, soon failed. Repeatedly, the GOP repeatedly found itself powerless to block or substantively change the legislation, stymied by a newly united and emboldened Democratic caucus. Still, the all-night process, known in Senate parlance as a vote-a-rama, otherwise moved at a crawl, though a final vote approve the bill still seemed likely to occur at some point Sunday.

Democrats plan to adopt their spending proposal under the process known as reconciliation, which allows them to band together, avert a GOP filibuster and approve legislation with 50 votes plus the tiebreaking support of Vice President Harris.

Enabling the vote, Schumer brokered a series of deals in recent days with Democratic centrist holdouts Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). The agreements won their elusive, must-have support, but again forced Democrats to scale back their ambitions to remake broad swaths of the economy and the U.S. tax code.

The resulting spending package differs dramatically from the more expansive, roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better Act that Biden sought, and the House adopted, at the end of last year. That measure included more ambitious plans to offer free prekindergarten nationwide, provide paid family and medical leave, expand Medicare benefits and expand a slew of federal safety-net benefits. But the bill never won Manchin’s support, ultimately forcing Democrats back to the drawing board starting this spring.

As debate on the slimmed-down Inflation Reduction Act entered its second day, many Democrats came to accept those compromises as necessary; without them, they may not have a bill at all. But the chief architect of their more expansive original ambitions, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), took to the Senate floor to express his alarm at its narrow scope.

In a lengthy speech, Sanders blasted Republicans for failing to “stand up for the working families of this country” before turning his attention to Democrats. He implored the party with which he caucuses to restore many of the provisions cut to win Manchin’s support, including expanded Medicare benefits and more generous tax credits for families with children.

“We must show them that we are capable of representing the needs of ordinary Americans and not just wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said, arguing that the bill had “good features, but also some very bad features.”

But Democrats ultimately rejected Sanders’s pleas. Many said they did so reluctantly, since they supported his ideas, but they were disinclined to upset the delicate deal struck with Manchin and Sinema. The awkward politics were evident early Sunday, when Sanders tried to restore a plan to provide expanded child tax credit payments to families. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a leading proponent of the idea, took to the floor to urge a vote against it — or they might “lose the underlying bill.”

The amendment failed with Sanders voting for it — and every other senator against.



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