Friday, December 2

GOP partially strips out insulin cap from Dems’ climate, tax and health care bill

“I’m not sure we’re making any progress that’s significant,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), adding that, after hours of amendment votes, “it would be nice to call it.”

Other than the blow to the insulin proposal, the $700 billion-plus party-line legislation remained largely unscathed during the Senate’s infamous “vote-a-rama,” the amendment marathon that allows any senator to force a vote on proposed tweaks to the measure. Senate Democrats banded together to fend off more than 20 attempts to change the bill, often voting as a bloc even on portions they support.

Seven Republican senators backed keeping the insulin cap for private markets: Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. The provision needed 60 votes to remain in the bill.

The unlimited amendment series is the final episode of a lengthy drama that began more than a year ago with a Democratic budget designed to set the stage for a $3.5 trillion social spending package that could sidestep a filibuster. That vision whittled down over the course of many months to the bill that the Senate is still set to pass later Sunday — though it’s still far larger than the health care-only package Democrats thought they’d get from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) just two weeks ago.

Democrats ultimately preserved the core pieces of their proposal, surviving Republican arguments that parts of the bill did not meet Senate rules that would allow the package to pass under a simple majority vote. The legislation still includes lowering some prescription drug prices, providing more than $300 billion into climate change and clean energy and imposing a 15 percent minimum tax on large corporations, plus a new 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks. The bill also increases IRS enforcement and extends Obamacare subsidies through the 2024 election.

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The final bill was carefully negotiated to be able to win support from all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus. And for most Democrats, that means no more changes — even changes they support.

One awkward example: Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) argued against an attempt by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to change child tax credit and corporate tax language in the bill, which they actually back, with Brown saying it would “bring down the bill” if they approved it. Sanders was unbowed — even as he lost, 1-97.

“They’re great amendments. I’m very happy and I think it says something that every Democrat and Republican voted against them. It says I’m doing something right,” Sanders said around 8 a.m. on Sunday. “I’m fighting for you. I think that should be the message — not to come up with a convoluted reason you can’t vote for it.”

Sanders said he would support the bill on final passage. His vow to back the bill in the end, combined with near-complete unity among Democrats in defeating amendments, steered the legislation to passage under rules that allow them to avoid a filibuster. The House plans to consider the legislation on Friday.

Manchin surprised his colleagues late last month when he reached a deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on tax and climate provisions as part of the agreement. Then Schumer made a handful of major changes to appease Sinema, eliminating language that would have tightened a loophole allowing certain investors to pay less in taxes and would have raised $14 billion in revenue.

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Democrats agreed to add a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks, which is expected to raise $73 billion, while tweaking the corporate minimum tax to appease anxious manufacturers. The bill once contained $300 billion in deficit reduction, though the Congressional Budget Office has not yet provided a full score of the revised bill’s provisions.

During the vote-a-rama, Democrats offered alternative amendments to buy some cover for their own vulnerable members on several GOP proposals. That included a side-by-side debate on Title 42, a polarizing Trump-era policy that placed limits on migration during the pandemic.

Sanders tried to insert provisions that would bolster prescription drug reforms, expand Medicare and create a Civilian Climate Corps, but he failed to attract support from the vast majority of his colleagues. Only Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff joined Sanders in his effort to expand Medicare; Warnock’s own attempt to allow the bill to expand Medicaid to states that have blocked Obamacare’s more generous Medicaid language also failed, 5-94.

On Saturday, the party-line proposal survived Senate vetting of the Medicare portions of its prescription drug reform plan, while Democrats lost ground on a separate pillar that penalizes drug companies for raising prices on individuals with private health insurance. The legislation’s tax, clean energy and environmental provisions also advanced unscathed.

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