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Senate Dems Pass Budget Package        08/08 06:06

   Democrats pushed their election-year economic package to Senate passage 
Sunday, a hard-fought compromise less ambitious than President Joe Biden's 
original domestic vision but one that still meets deep-rooted party goals of 
slowing global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing immense 
corporations.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats pushed their election-year economic package to 
Senate passage Sunday, a hard-fought compromise less ambitious than President 
Joe Biden's original domestic vision but one that still meets deep-rooted party 
goals of slowing global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing 
immense corporations.

   The estimated $740 billion package heads next to the House, where lawmakers 
are poised to deliver on Biden's priorities, a stunning turnaround of what had 
seemed a lost and doomed effort that suddenly roared back to political life. 
Cheers broke out as Senate Democrats held united, 51-50, with Vice President 
Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote after an all-night session.

   "Today, Senate Democrats sided with American families over special 
interests," President Joe Biden said in a statement from Rehoboth Beach, 
Delaware. "I ran for President promising to make government work for working 
families again, and that is what this bill does -- period."

   Biden, who had his share of long nights during his three decades as a 
senator, called into the Senate cloakroom during the vote on speakerphone to 
personally thank the staff for their hard work.

   The president urged the House to pass the bill as soon as possible. Speaker 
Nancy Pelosi said her chamber would "move swiftly to send this bill to the 
president's desk." House votes are expected Friday.

   "It's been a long, tough and winding road, but at last, at last we have 
arrived," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., ahead of final 
votes.

   "The Senate is making history. I am confident the Inflation Reduction Act 
will endure as one of the defining legislative feats of the 21st century," he 
said.

   Senators engaged in a round-the-clock marathon of voting that began Saturday 
and stretched late into Sunday afternoon. Democrats swatted down some three 
dozen Republican amendments designed to torpedo the legislation. Confronting 
unanimous GOP opposition, Democratic unity in the 50-50 chamber held, keeping 
the party on track for a morale-boosting victory three months from elections 
when congressional control is at stake.

   The bill ran into trouble midday over objections to the new 15% corporate 
minimum tax that private equity firms and other industries disliked, forcing 
last-minute changes.

   Despite the momentary setback, the "Inflation Reduction Act" gives Democrats 
a campaign-season showcase for action on coveted goals. It includes the 
largest-ever federal effort on climate change -- close to $400 billion -- caps 
out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare to $2,000 a year and extends 
expiring subsidies that help 13 million people afford health insurance. By 
raising corporate taxes and reaping savings from the long-sought goal of 
allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare, the whole 
package is paid for, with some $300 billion extra revenue for deficit reduction.

   Barely more than one-tenth the size of Biden's initial 10-year, $3.5 
trillion Build Back Better initiative, the new package abandons earlier 
proposals for universal preschool, paid family leave and expanded child care 
aid. That plan collapsed after conservative Sen. Joe. Manchin, D-W.Va., opposed 
it, saying it was too costly and would fuel inflation.

   Nonpartisan analysts have said the 755-page "Inflation Reduction Act" would 
have a minor effect on surging consumer prices.

   Republicans said the new measure would undermine an economy that 
policymakers are struggling to keep from plummeting into recession. They said 
the bill's business taxes would hurt job creation and force prices skyward, 
making it harder for people to cope with the nation's worst inflation since the 
1980s.

   "Democrats have already robbed American families once through inflation, and 
now their solution is to rob American families a second time," Senate Minority 
Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued.

   In an ordeal imposed on most budget bills like this one, the Senate had to 
endure an overnight "vote-a-rama" of rapid-fire amendments. Each tested 
Democrats' ability to hold together the compromise bill negotiated by Schumer, 
progressives, Manchin and the inscrutable centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

   Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., criticized the bill's shortcomings 
and offered amendments to further expand the legislation's health benefits, but 
those efforts were defeated. Republicans forced their own votes designed to 
make Democrats look soft on U.S.-Mexico border security and gasoline and energy 
costs, and like bullies for wanting to strengthen IRS tax law enforcement.

   Before debate began, the bill's prescription drug price curbs were diluted 
by the Senate's nonpartisan parliamentarian who said a provision should fall 
that would impose costly penalties on drug makers whose price increases for 
private insurers exceed inflation.

   It was the bill's chief protection for the 180 million people with private 
health coverage they get through work or purchase themselves. Under special 
procedures that will let Democrats pass their bill by simple majority without 
the usual 60-vote margin, its provisions must be focused more on 
dollar-and-cents budget numbers than policy changes.

   But the thrust of Democrats' pharmaceutical price language remained. That 
included letting Medicare negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million 
elderly recipients, penalizing manufacturers for exceeding inflation for 
pharmaceuticals sold to Medicare and limiting beneficiaries out-of-pocket drug 
costs to $2,000 annually.

   The bill also caps Medicare patients' costs for insulin, the expensive 
diabetes medication, at $35 monthly. Democrats wanted to extend the $35 cap to 
private insurers but it ran afoul of Senate rules. Most Republicans voted to 
strip it from the package, though in a sign of the political potency of health 
costs seven GOP senators joined Democrats trying to preserve it.

   The measure's final costs were being recalculated to reflect late changes, 
but overall it would raise more than $700 billion over a decade. The money 
would come from a 15% minimum tax on a handful of corporations with yearly 
profits above $1 billion, a 1% tax on companies that repurchase their own 
stock, bolstered IRS tax collections and government savings from lower drug 
costs.

   Sinema forced Democrats to drop a plan to prevent wealthy hedge fund 
managers from paying less than individual income tax rates for their earnings. 
She also joined with other Western senators to win $4 billion to combat the 
region's drought.

   Several Democratic senators joined the GOP-led effort to exclude some firms 
from the new corporate minimum tax.

   The package keeps to Biden's pledge not to raise taxes on those earning less 
than $400,000 a year.

   It was on the energy and environment side that compromise was most evident 
between progressives and Manchin, a champion of fossil fuels and his state's 
coal industry.

   Clean energy would be fostered with tax credits for buying electric vehicles 
and manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines. There would be home energy 
rebates, funds for constructing factories building clean energy technology and 
money to promote climate-friendly farm practices and reduce pollution in 
minority communities.

   Manchin won billions to help power plants lower carbon emissions plus 
language requiring more government auctions for oil drilling on federal land 
and waters. Party leaders also promised to push separate legislation this fall 
to accelerate permits for energy projects, which Manchin wants to include a 
nearly completed natural gas pipeline in his state.

   Still, environmental groups hailed the passage as a milestone. "Tremendous 
progress," said Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources 
Defense Council, in a statement.

 
 
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