House Dems set to defeat GOP for climate, health care win – The Independent

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A flagship Democratic economic bill was on the verge of passage by the House on Friday, placing President Joe Biden on the brink of a victory of the dead over his party’s climate, health and tax goals can stimulate for the November elections.

Democrats were poised to push the measure through the narrowly divided House Friday over solid Republican opposition. They used similar party unity and Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote to clear the measure through the Senate 50-50 on Sunday.

The package is only a shadow of Biden’s first vision and was produced only after a year of often bitter infighting between party leaders, progressives and centrists led by Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., empowered by the very split of that chamber. In the end, Democrats thirsty to declare victory compromised on conservative goals such as limiting pharmaceutical costs, taxing big business and, above all, limiting carbon emissions. They hope to show they can wring achievements out of an often fractiously gridlocked Washington that has alienated many voters.

“Climate is a health issue. It’s a jobs issue. It’s a safety issue. And it’s a value 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 industries and consumers to shift from carbon-emitting to cleaner forms of energy, hailed by experts as the largest climate investment by Congress ever. That includes $4 billion added to deal with the West’s catastrophic drought.

Spending, tax credits and loans would bolster technology such as solar panels, consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emissions-reducing equipment for coal- and gas-fired 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 purchased health insurance. Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceutical products, initially in 2026 for just 10 drugs. Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket prescription costs would be limited to $2,000 starting in 2025, and starting next year they will pay no more than $35 monthly for insulin, the expensive diabetes drug.

The bill would raise about $740 billion in revenue over the decade, more than a third from government savings from lower drug prices. More would flow from higher taxes on roughly $1 billion companies, levies on companies buying back their own stock and stronger IRS tax collections. About $300 billion would be left to cover budget deficits, a fraction of the projected total of $16 trillion over the period.

Republicans say the legislation’s tax increases will force businesses to raise prices, exacerbating the nation’s struggle with its worst inflation since 1981, hurting Democrats’ election prospects. Nonpartisan analysts say that the measure will somehow have a negative impact on inflation.

The GOP, like other culture war themes, has criticized initiatives like tax breaks for clean energy and electric cars 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 top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Republicans say Democrats’ plan to expand the IRS budget, aimed at collecting about $120 billion in unpaid taxes, envisions 87,000 agents coming to families. Democrats called furiously, saying their $80 billion IRS budget increase would be to replace waves of retirees, not just agents, and modernize equipment, saying families and small businesses that make under $400,000 annually deserve, not be directed.

The GOP also says the bill would raise taxes on lower- and middle-income families. An analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation in Congress, which did not include the tax breaks from the health care and energy bills, estimated that the corporate tax hike would marginally affect those taxpayers, in part because of lower stock prices and wages.

The bill caps a fruitful three months in which Congress has voted to improve veterans’ health benefits, rein in the semiconductor industry, moderately strengthen gun restrictions for younger buyers, fund Ukraine’s war with Russia, and give Finland and Sweden to add 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. Although record gasoline prices have fallen, Biden’s popularity dangles dangerously low and midterm elections have a consistent history of ending the careers of lawmakers from the party that holds the White House.

The 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. Encouraged, the new president and his party reached out further.

They initially produced an ambitious 10-year, $3.5 trillion environmental and social plan they called Build Back Better. It included free prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits, education and housing increases and an easing of immigration restrictions. It sought to restore Trump-era tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and proposed $555 billion for climate efforts, well above the appropriations in Friday’s legislation.

With Manchin opposing these amounts, it was closed 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 outraged fellow Democrats on 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 on the new, scaled-down package last month.

Manchin won billions for carbon capture technology for the fossil fuel industry he opposes, plus procedures for more oil drilling on federal lands and promises for faster energy projects.

Centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also used her leverage for late concessions, eliminating planned higher taxes on hedge fund managers and helping the dry funds win.

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