May 29, 2024 7:30 am
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Senate Democrats Pass Historic Climate and Health Care Bill Over Unanimous GOP Opposition

Credit: AP

Josh Israel

The U.S. Senate on Sunday gave final approval to a historic climate and health care package following months of negotiations. Every single Senate Republican voted against it.

With Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, the Inflation Reduction Act passed 51-50. Under Senate budget reconciliation rules, Republicans could not filibuster the legislation because it dealt with federal taxation and spending matters.

The bill will provide $369 billion in energy and climate change infrastructure funding and $64 billion to pay for a three-year extension of health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. It will also cap out-of-pocket costs of prescription drugs and insulin for Medicare beneficiaries.

These benefits, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in deficit reduction, will be paid for by allowing the federal government to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies, closing corporate tax loopholes, and cracking down on wealthy tax evaders.

The bulk of the package was negotiated by West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who had balked at the size of a broader climate and human infrastructure plan proposed by President Joe Biden in 2021, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Some additional changes were made to win the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who had objected to eliminating the carried interest loophole that allows private equity managers to pay a lower rate on their fee income and had requested $4 billion in drought resilience funding for her state and others.

After Republican parliamentary objections were sustained by Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, provisions that would have reduced the cost of prescription drugs and insulin for Americans with private insurance were struck from the bill.

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) attempted to restore a $35 monthly cap on the copay for insulin for all insurance plans. But with only seven Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in favor, his motion fell three votes shy of the 60 votes the parliamentarian determined were necessary for a provision she said did not qualify for a simple majority vote.

Final passage came after a marathon overnight session during which Republicans unsuccessfully offered amendment after amendment in an attempt to remove pieces of the legislation, in a process known as a “vote-a-rama.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) used anti-LGBTQ and antisemitic tropes in unsuccessful attempts to amend the bill to discriminate against transgender people and overrule local prosecutors.

In the lead-up to the vote, Senate Republicans repeatedly lied about the tax provisions, falsely claiming that the bill would raise taxes for working families. In reality, no one earning under $400,000 will pay a penny more in taxes, and many families will see significant energy and health care savings.

Environmental groups strongly backed the Democratic package, calling it vital to the preservation of human life on the planet.

Earthjustice praised it as “a huge step forward in the fight to preserve a livable planet and is one we need to take while we have the chance.”

Three former Environmental Protection administrators — Christine Todd Whitman, who served under President George W. Bush; William K. Reilly, who served under President George H.W. Bush; and Carol Browner, who served under President Bill Clinton — also endorsed the bill as “the most significant piece of climate legislation in United States history.”

But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “Green New Deal nonsense.”

Rubio, in a since deleted tweet, griped about his flight plans being disrupted by the bill: “Woke up at 5 am to a 3 am email that my 8:30 am flight was cancelled but they rebooked me on an 8 pm flight tomorrow night with one connection. Now in DC for the joy that is ‘vote a rama’ on a garbage bill.”

Polling conducted by the groups Climate Power and Data for Progress in early August shows strong support for the bill among likely voters, 73% of whom said they approve of it, while 22% did not.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after the bill passed in the House on Aug. 7, “The House will return and move swiftly to send this bill to the President’s desk — proudly building a healthier, cleaner, fairer future for all Americans.” House members are scheduled to return from their current recess to vote on the bill on Friday. President Biden has said he will sign it.

This story was written by Josh Israel, former senior investigative reporter at ThinkProgress, where this story first appeared.

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