House Dems Set for Climate, Health Win 08/12 06:05
A flagship Democratic economic bill perched on the edge of House passage
Friday, placing President Joe Biden on the brink of a back-from-the-dead
triumph on his climate, health and tax goals that could energize his party
ahead of November's elections.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A flagship Democratic economic bill perched on the edge
of House passage Friday, placing President Joe Biden on the brink of a
back-from-the-dead triumph on his climate, health and tax goals that could
energize his party ahead of November's elections.
Democrats were poised to muscle the measure through the narrowly divided
House Friday over solid Republican opposition. They employed similar party
unity and Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote Sunday to power the
measure through the 50-50 Senate.
The package is but a shadow of Biden's initial vision and was produced only
after a year of often bitter infighting between party leaders, progressives and
centrists led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., empowered by that chamber's even
split. Ultimately, Democrats thirsty to declare victory forged a compromise on
abiding goals like reining in pharmaceutical costs, taxing large companies and,
especially, curbing carbon emissions. They are hoping to show they can wring
accomplishments from an often fractiously gridlocked Washington that alienates
"Climate is a health issue. It's a jobs issue. It's a security issue. And
it's a values issue for us," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told
reporters this week. "I want more, of course, we always want more, but this is
a great deal."
The bill's pillar is about $375 billion over 10 years to encourage industry
and consumers to shift from carbon-emitting to cleaner forms of energy, hailed
by experts as Congress' biggest climate investment ever. That includes $4
billion added to cope with the West's catastrophic drought.
Spending, tax credits and loans would bolster technology like solar panels,
consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment
for coal- and gas-powered power plants and air pollution controls for farms,
ports and low-income communities.
In a pair of top Democratic health priorities, another $64 billion would
help 13 million people pay premiums over the next three years for privately
bought health insurance. Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs
for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for only 10 drugs. Medicare
beneficiaries' out-of-pocket prescription costs would be limited to $2,000
starting in 2025, and starting next year they would pay no more than $35
monthly for insulin, the costly diabetes drug.
The bill would raise around $740 billion in revenue over the decade, over a
third from government savings from lower drug prices. More would flow from
higher taxes on some $1 billion corporations, levies on companies that
repurchase their own stock and stronger IRS tax collections. Around $300
billion would remain to defray budget deficits, a fraction of the period's
projected total of $16 trillion.
Republicans say the legislation's tax hikes will force companies to raise
prices, worsening the nation's bout with its worst inflation since 1981 that is
wounding Democrats' election prospects. Nonpartisan analysts say the measure
will have negligible inflation impact one way or the other.
Echoing other culture war themes, the GOP has criticized initiatives like
tax breaks for clean energy and electric vehicles as wasteful liberal
daydreams. "If the Green New Deal and corporate welfare had a baby, it would
look like this," said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the House Ways and Means
Committee's top Republican.
Republicans say Democrats' plan to expand the IRS budget, aimed at
collecting about $120 billion in unpaid taxes, envisions 87,000 agents who'd be
coming after families. Democrats called foul, saying their $80 billion IRS
budget boost would be to replace waves of retirees, not just agents, and to
modernize equipment, and say families and small businesses earning below
$400,000 annually would not be targeted.
The GOP also says the bill would raise taxes on lower- and middle-income
families. An analysis by Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation,
which didn't include the bill's tax breaks for health care and energy,
estimated that the corporate tax boosts would marginally affect those
taxpayers, partly due to lower stock prices and wages.
The bill caps a fertile three months in which Congress has voted to improve
veterans' health benefits, gird the semiconductor industry, moderately
strengthen gun restrictions for younger buyers, finance Ukraine's war with
Russia and add Finland and Sweden to NATO. All passed with bipartisan support,
suggesting Republicans also want to display their productive side.
It's unclear voters will reward Democrats for the legislation after months
of painfully high inflation dominating voters' attention. Though record
gasoline prices have dipped, Biden's popularity dangles damagingly low and
midterm elections have a consistent history of ending careers of lawmakers from
the party that holds the White House.
Democrats' economic bill had its roots in early 2021, after Congress
approved a $1.9 trillion measure over GOP opposition to combat the
pandemic-induced economic downturn. Emboldened, the new president and his party
They initially produced an ambitious 10-year, $3.5 trillion environment and
social plan they called Build Back Better. It featured free prekindergarten,
paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits, increases for
education and housing and an easing of immigration restrictions. It sought to
roll back Trump-era tax breaks for the rich and corporations and proposed $555
billion for climate efforts, well above the resources in Friday's legislation.
With Manchin opposing those amounts, it was sliced to a roughly $2 trillion
measure that Democrats moved through the House in November. Just before
Christmas, Manchin unexpectedly sank that bill, citing fears of inflation and
international uncertainty and earning brickbats from exasperated fellow
Democrats from Capitol Hill and the White House.
With on-and-off closed-door talks between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader
Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., seemingly dying, the two lawmakers shocked Washington
and announced agreement last month on the new, pared-down package.
Manchin won billions for carbon capture technology for the fossil fuel
industries he champions, plus procedures for more oil drilling on federal lands
and promises for faster energy project permitting.
Centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also used her leverage for late
concessions, eliminating planned higher taxes on hedge fund managers and
helping win the drought funds.