US Senate Democrats Move On With $430 Billion Drug, Energy Bill

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US Senate Democrats begin Saturday on one of their most crucial missions from the Joe Biden presidency: tackling climate change, lowering the cost of energy and medicine for seniors and forcing the rich to pay more taxes.

They hope that passing the $430 billion bill will boost Democratic candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives as the Nov. 8 congressional election approaches and inflation remains a major concern among voters.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference Friday. “For years, many in Washington have pledged to address some of the greatest challenges our nation faces, but they are falling short… This is a very, very, very big problem.”

Republicans have pledged to do everything in their power to delay or block the bill, and Senator Lindsey Graham on Friday called the legislation “this jihad they’re going to tax and spend.”

But the Democrats are betting they can ram it through the Senate, using a secretive and complicated “reconciliation” procedure that allows passage without any Republican support in a Senate split 50-50.

Senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the finance committee, said through a spokesperson that Democrats had received the necessary approval overnight to proceed with the energy portions of the bill.

There was no word yet on whether the Senate MP — the arbitrator who will decide whether Democrats can pass the bill as written about Republican objections — has approved the health benefits.

‘VOICE-A-RAMA’

Saturday will be the start of a grueling process that could extend into early next week in which senators will offer amendment after amendment in a time-consuming “vote-a-rama.”

Progressive Democrats, like Bernie Sanders, will likely try to expand the bill’s scope with new programs such as federal grants for childcare or home care for the elderly.

Republicans have indicated that they will table numerous amendments addressing another issue facing voters: immigrants crossing the southwestern border into Mexico.

There are three main parts to this bill that initially carried a price of $430 billion in new government investment, coupled with more than $740 billion in new revenue, including a 15% minimum corporate tax, stricter IRS enforcement and a new tax on the buy back shares. The final price tag may change.

In addition to billions of dollars to encourage the production and purchase of more electric vehicles and promote clean energy, the bill would bring in $4 billion in new federal funds for drought relief. The latter is a move that could aid the re-election campaigns of Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Heavens)

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