Congress passes Democrats’ climate and health bill, a victory for Biden’s agenda

WASHINGTON– A divided Congress on Friday gave final endorsement to the Democrats’ flagship on climate and health care, giving President Joe Biden a triumph over coveted priorities that the party hopes will boost its prospects of keeping Congress in November’s election .

The House of Representatives used a vote on party line 220-207 to pass the bill, which is just a shadow of the larger, more ambitious plan to supercharge environmental and social programs that Biden and his party envisioned early last year. Nonetheless, Democrats happily declared victory on high-profile goals such as delivering Congress’ largest-ever investment in cutting carbon emissions, curbing drug costs and taxing big companies, a vote they believe will show that they can so often wrestle victories from a routinely deadlocked Washington disillusioned voters.

“Today is a day to celebrate, a day when we take another big step in our momentous agenda,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. She said the measure “meets the moment and ensures our families thrive and our planet survives”.

Republicans strongly opposed the bill, calling it a cornucopia of lavish liberal daydreams that would increase taxes and families’ living costs. They did the same Sunday, but Senate Democrats joined forces, using Vice President Kamala Harris’ undecided vote to get the measure through that 50-50 chamber.

“More than any majority in history, Democrats are addicted to spending other people’s money, regardless of what we can afford as a country,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “I can almost see joy in her eyes.”

Biden’s original $3.5 trillion 10-year proposal also included free pre-kindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and relaxed immigration restrictions. That crashed after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., said it was too costly by using the influence each Democrat has in the evenly divided Senate.

Nevertheless, the final legislation remained material. Its pillar is approximately $375 billion over 10 years to encourage industry and consumers to shift from carbon-emitting to cleaner forms of energy. That includes $4 billion to help address the catastrophic drought in the west.

Spending, tax credits and loans would support technologies such as solar panels, consumer efforts to improve household energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment for coal and gas-fired power plants, and clean air for farms, ports and low-income communities.

Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay for private health insurance premiums over the next three years. Medicare would be given the power to negotiate its drug costs, initially in 2026 for just 10 drugs. Out-of-pocket prescription costs for Medicare beneficiaries would be capped at $2,000 beginning in 2025, and starting next year, insulin, the costly diabetes drug, would be paid no more than $35 a month.

The law would generate about $740 billion in revenue over the decade, more than a third from state savings due to lower drug prices. More would come from higher taxes on about $1 billion worth of companies, levies on companies buying back their own stock, and stronger IRS tax revenues. About $300 billion would be left over to cover the budget deficits, a fraction of the $16 trillion total projected for the period.

Amid GOP attacks on the FBI over its court-authorized search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home for sensitive documents, Republicans have repeatedly trashed the bill’s increase in the IRS budget. It aims to collect an estimated $120 billion in unpaid taxes over the next decade, and Republicans have misleadingly claimed that the IRS will hire 87,000 agents to target average families.

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., said Democrats would also “arm” the IRS with agents “many of whom will be trained in the use of deadly force to go after every American citizen.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Thursday on Fox and Friends if there would be an IRS “task force” coming in with AK-15 rifles already loaded and ready to shoot some small businessmen.

Few IRS employees are armed, and Democrats say the $80 billion 10-year budget increase would consist of replacing waves of retirees, not just agents, and modernizing equipment. They said typical families and small businesses would not be targeted, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen this week directed the IRS “not to increase below the $400,000 threshold the proportion of small businesses or households” that would be audited.

Republicans say the law’s new corporate taxes will raise prices and worsen the nation’s struggle with its worst inflation since 1981. Although Democrats have dubbed the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, impartial analysts say it will have little noticeable impact on prices.

The GOP also says the bill would increase taxes for low- and middle-income families. An analysis by the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation of Congress, which did not take into account the tax breaks in the Health Care and Energy bill, estimated that the corporate tax hikes would affect these taxpayers slightly but indirectly, in part due to lower stock prices and wages.

The bill limits three months during which Congress passed legislation on veterans’ benefits, the semiconductor industry, gun controls for young buyers and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO. All passed with bipartisan support, suggesting Republicans are also looking to show their productive side.

It’s unclear if voters will back the Democrats after months of painfully high inflation dominating voter attention and Biden’s dangerously low popularity with the public and a steady history of midterm elections beating the White House-holding party legislation will reward.

The bill had its roots in early 2021 after Congress approved a $1.9 trillion measure against GOP opposition to combat the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Encouraged, the new president and his party took further steps.

They called their $3.5 trillion plan Build Back Better. Alongside social and environmental initiatives, she proposed rolling back Trump-era tax breaks for the wealthy and businesses and $555 billion for climate action, well above the resources in Friday’s legislation.

Because Manchin opposed those amounts, it was reduced to a measure of about $2 trillion, which Democrats moved through the House in November. Unexpectedly, he sunk that bill as well, earning contempt from disgruntled Capitol Hill and White House Democrats.

Recent talks between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., seemed fruitless until the two unexpectedly announced an agreement on the new package last month.

Manchin has won billions on carbon capture technology for the fossil fuel industries he champions, plus procedures for more oil drilling on federal land and promises of faster energy project approvals. Centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also won concessions, eliminating proposed higher taxes on hedge fund managers and helping win the drought funds.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Congress passes Democrats’ climate and health bill, a victory for Biden’s agenda

Dais Johnston

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