After weeks of negotiations to revive the core of their election-year agenda, Senate Democrats appear to be on the brink of passing a spending bill which would attempt to tackle climate change, the high cost of prescription drugs and lower the deficit by roughly $300 billion.
Three weeks ago, the bill was all but dead when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., withheld his support, citing concerns about adding to historically high inflation.
But just last week, he and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced an agreement, much to the surprise of others in the Senate, who will begin debating the legislation on Saturday afternoon.
The legislation is a significant step forward for President Biden’s domestic agenda.
“This bill is a gamechanger for working families and our economy,” Biden said at an event at the White House Friday. “I look forward to the Senate taking up this legislation and passing it as soon as possible.”
The bill is getting passed through budget reconciliation, which allows Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority in the evenly-divided chamber and avoid the threat of a Republican filibuster that applies to most legislation.
It also means each section of the bill needs to be reviewed by the Senate parliamentarian to make sure it is actually legislation that will primarily impact the budget. This review process is often referred to as the “Byrd Bath,” named after the late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd.
Democrats said on Saturday that the parliamentarian approved key elements of the bill on prescription drug pricing and clean energy.
Democrats appear to have all 50 votes in their conference after Sinema agreement
Late Thursday night, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said she would “move forward” with the legislation; she was the last holdout on the bill and her support essentially means the Senate has all 50 Democratic votes needed to pass the bill.
To get on board, Sinema wanted the section of the bill that narrowed the carried interest tax loophole to be removed. The measure impacts how private equity is taxed and Democrats say it would have brought in $14 billion.
What Sinema wanted to add, though, brings in more revenue. It’s a 1% excise tax on stock buybacks — Schumer said Friday he and progressive Democrats were excited about that aspect of the bill, which he says brings in roughly $74 billion.
“What we added excites me and I think it excites all Democrats and particularly progressives,” Schumer said at a press conference Friday. “I hate stock buybacks. I think they’re one of the most self-serving things that corporate America does.”
Also added in is about $4 billion in drought resiliency put forward by Senators Catherine Cortez-Masto, D-Nev., Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. Sinema had also called for this addition in the bill.
There is still criticism of the bill coming from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who has argued the legislation doesn’t do enough for working class Americans by not increasing the minimum wage, making child care more affordable or tackling the student debt crisis.
He took to the Senate floor Wednesday and called it the “so-called” Inflation Reduction Act.
“As currently written, this is an extremely modest piece of legislation that does virtually nothing to address the enormous crises that working families all across this country are facing today,” he said.
He added that he plans to bring up his concerns during the amendment process on the floor over the weekend, but a scenario in which Sanders’ concerns prevent him from voting for the bill altogether is highly unlikely.
What could be another hurdle for the bill is opposition from progressives in the House, who are set to return to consider the legislation late next week.
The big mystery is when a final vote will come
While Senators wait for the Senate parliamentarian to finish her analysis of the bill, both sides are gearing up for as many as 20 hours of debate, split evenly between the two parties, that kick off once the bill is introduced by Schumer.
Democrats are likely to yield back most of their time. And some reports show Republicans might as well, so it could be a much shorter process than expected. If that turns out to be the case, the “vote-a-rama” — when Senators are allowed to introduce an unlimited number of amendments to the bill — could begin as soon as Saturday evening.
Also allowed during vote-a-rama is a call to have the entire text of the bill, which is roughly 700 pages, read aloud.
It caps off a busy — and successful — stretch for Biden’s domestic agenda
In the past few weeks, the Senate has voted on a bill to expand helth services for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, a semiconductor bill, and a measure to allow Finland and Sweden into NATO — and all of those votes have been bipartisan.
Schumer, though, has made it clear that Senate Democrats will also go it alone if they have to, which is what they’re doing with this bill. No Republican will vote for the legislation, but with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Harris, Democrats can still cinch a victory.
It caps off a busy week on Capitol Hill and also sets up a busy week for the president, who already has a slew of bills to sign into law next week.