US House Democrats send sweeping climate, health care and tax legislation to Biden

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved the climate, health care and tax package long sought after by Democrats, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The roughly $750 billion measure is far below the $2 trillion reconciliation package the House originally sent to the Senate in November. The final product omitted dozens of provisions, including expanded child care tax credits and paid family leave, which many left-leaning Democrats say are desperately needed.

But Democrats, including Progressives, still defended the slimmed-down version of the bill before voting 220 to 207 along party lines to approve the package.

Friday’s debate on the bill was part of a brief one-day session for House members, who will now continue their August recess. Members are not expected to return to Washington, DC, until September 13.

Democrats have repeatedly called the legislation “historic” and said it shows their party puts “people above politics”. The package would cap out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare prescription drugs at $2,000 per year starting in 2025 and allow the federal government to negotiate some of the most expensive prescription drugs starting in 2026.

“This is landmark legislation that will help reduce costs for American families, while finally aggressively tackling the climate crisis,” the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman said. , Frank Pallone, Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, during an indoor debate.

“We simply cannot wait any longer to address the climate crisis,” he said. “Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and extreme…and these extreme weather events are costing families their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods.

Maine Democratic Representative Jared Golden, the only member of his party to vote against the broader package in November, announced just before the vote on Friday that he would support the version.

“He is fiscally responsible and targets four key priorities: reducing the national debt and putting our country back on a fiscally responsible path, reducing the cost of prescription drugs and making health care more affordable, investing in an above strategy to dramatically increase oil, gas and renewable energy production to reduce energy costs for Americans, and to combat billion-dollar multinational corporate tax evasion,” said Golden in the release.

GOP criticizes IRS funding

Republicans remained strongly opposed to the measure, dubbed the Cut Inflation Act, saying it would raise energy costs and increase the number of Internal Revenue Service employees. The package would provide about $80 billion in funding to the Internal Revenue Service to strengthen tax enforcement, a change that Democrats said in Friday’s debate would not affect Americans earning less than $400,000 a year. year.

Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton weighed in against the bill, saying that while he’s no stranger to working on bipartisan legislation, he just couldn’t support the package Democrats presented on Friday. .

“Our economy is in a fragile state as we emerge from this pandemic,” Upton said. “We’ve seen high inflation for decades crushing Main Street and compressing the middle class.”

House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, chastised Democrats for advancing the bill, speaking out against the energy, climate, health care and tax provisions. He also chastised Democrats for including the $80 billion earmarked to beef up Internal Revenue Service staff and technology.

“Let’s talk about these 87,000 IRS agents. You think of any NFL stadium in America completely filled with new IRS agents. That’s right, more than doubling the size of the IRS,” Scalise said.

House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, called “nonsense” Republicans’ statements about the IRS hiring 87,000 new agents and noted that the current Commissioner of the IRS said the agency would not increase audits on people earning less than $400,000 a year.

“It seems to me that Republicans just don’t want people to pay taxes, even though they’re owed,” Yarmuth said, noting that hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes owed go unpaid each year.

“This is an attempt to try to recover some of that money that is owed and not paid by taxpayers, who in many cases are cheating,” Yarmuth added.

Faster action from home

The House debate on the measure was nowhere near as long or tedious as in the US Senate, where members spent from Saturday night through Sunday debating 37 amendments before voting 51-50, Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie, to approve the package on Aug. 7.

The bill, primarily brokered by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, would spend $370 billion on clean energy programs, including tax credits for electric vehicles and tax incentives for energy companies to produce renewable energy.

It would provide $1.5 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency to help companies reduce methane, a greenhouse gas, and impose a charge on companies for certain methane emissions.

As part of the Manchin agreement, the legislation requires the U.S. government to lease 2 million acres of federal lands and 60 million acres of federal waters for oil and gas development in order to lease other lands and federal waters for solar or wind generation.

The bill would also increase funding for a federal trust fund that helps coal miners diagnosed with black lung pay for their health care if the company they worked for doesn’t.

Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott praised the provision during the indoor debate, saying “the tax extension will protect the long-term viability of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, while ensuring that the coal industry does not displace the cost of benefits from coal companies”. to minors, families or the taxpayer.

In other health care provisions, the package would force pharmaceutical companies to pay rebates if they raise the cost of certain prescription drugs within Medicare faster than inflation.

It would extend three-year subsidies for people who purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to avoid a price hike that was due to begin at the end of the year. These enhanced grants were first approved as part of Democrats’ COVID-19 bill last year and were set to expire.

Insulin cap in Medicare

The measure would cap the cost of insulin for Medicare beneficiaries at $35, but would not enforce a similar cap on co-pays for people with private health insurance after U.S. Senate Republicans passed block this provision.

House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina said he was “particularly pleased” with the bill’s provisions on insulin.

“Having lived through my late wife’s 30-year battle with diabetes, I am especially pleased that this bill caps insulin costs at $35 per month for those on Medicare,” Clyburn said. “It’s a giant step forward, but we will continue to work to overcome Republican opposition that has blocked the extension of the same bailouts to those with private insurance.”

The bill would be fully paid by instituting a 15% minimum tax on corporations with revenues over $1 billion and a 1% excise tax on stock buybacks as well as allowing Medicare to negotiate certain prescription drug prices.

Democrats pushed the measure through the 50-50 Senate and the narrowly divided U.S. House using the budget reconciliation process, a complicated route that requires the bill to comply with several rules.

Democrats used the same legislative process to approve their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package last year. Republicans used the budget reconciliation to pass their 2017 tax bill. And the GOP tried to use it to repeal and replace Obamacare the same year, but didn’t have the votes in the Senate to pass its proposal.

Congress has used the process to enact 22 laws since 1980, according to the Congressional Research Service.

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