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Senate ‘vote-a-rama’ continues with potential new drama for Democrats on sweeping climate and health care bill


By Alex Rogers, Clare Foran, Ali Zaslav and Manu Raju, CNN

The Senate is continuing to work Sunday on a series of amendment votes but faced new drama early afternoon as Democrats look to pass their sweeping climate, health care and tax package.

The amendment process, known on Capitol Hill as a “vote-a-rama,” started Saturday night shortly after 11:30 p.m. ET. A final vote on the bill will take place after the amendment votes end, the timing of which is not yet clear.

But senators are looking at making changes to the bill, just hours before the chamber is expected to pass it.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are in discussions with Senate GOP Whip John Thune on the 15% corporate minimum tax. The two Democrats — who are pivotal in writing and passing the legislation — were seen by CNN going into Thune’s office on Sunday.

“We’re having conversations and continuing to work it,” said Thune.

The issue has been percolating since Saturday after Sinema discovered language in a draft of the bill showing how subsidiaries of companies owned by private equity firms could be hit by the 15% corporate minimum tax if their combined book income exceeds $1 billion, according to a Senate source familiar with the matter. The source said that language was not in the original draft.

But another Senate Democratic source disputed the idea that it was a new addition, saying it was initially part of the House’s Build Back Better bill.

If Sinema succeeds in altering that provision, the bill would raise $35 billion less in revenue, potentially reducing the roughly $300 billion in deficit savings, which is a key priority for Manchin.

In a potential problem for Democrats, Sinema could back a Thune amendment to exempt those companies from the corporate minimum tax — and pay for the lost revenue by extending for a year a limitation on individuals’ state and local tax deductions through 2026.

If the Senate adopts Thune’s proposal, several Democrats in the House primarily from coastal districts, who have campaigned on repealing the limits on the SALT deduction, could object.

The bill — named the Inflation Reduction Act — would represent the largest climate investment in US history and make major changes to health policy by giving Medicare the power for the first time to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs and extending expiring health care subsidies for three years. The legislation would reduce the deficit, be paid for through new taxes — including a 15% minimum tax on large corporations and a 1% tax on stock buybacks — and boost the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to collect.

It would raise over $700 billion in government revenue over 10 years and spend over $430 billion to reduce carbon emissions and extend subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and use the rest of the new revenue to reduce the deficit.

Senate Democrats only need a simple majority for final passage of the bill since they are using a process known as reconciliation, which allows them to avoid a Republican filibuster and corresponding 60-vote threshold.

In order to pass a bill through the reconciliation process, however, the package must comply with a strict set of budget rules. And Republicans are using the vote-a-rama to put Democrats on the spot and force politically tough votes.

Republicans were also successful in removing a key insulin provisions to cap the price of insulin to $35 per month on the private insurance market, which the Senate parliamentarian ruled was not compliant with the Senate’s reconciliation rules. The $35 insulin cap for Medicare beneficiaries remains in place.

After the Senate passes the bill, the House is expected to return to Washington on Friday to consider it.

How the bill addresses the climate crisis

While economists disagree over whether the package would, in fact, live up to its name and reduce inflation, particularly in the short term, the bill would have a crucial impact on reducing carbon emissions.

The nearly $370 billion clean energy and climate package is the largest climate investment in US history, and the biggest victory for the environmental movement since the landmark Clean Air Act. It also comes at a critical time; this summer has seen punishing heat waves and deadly floods across the country, which scientists say are both linked to a warming planet.

Analysis from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office — as well as multiple independent analyses — suggests the measure would reduce US carbon emissions by up to 40% by 2030. Strong climate regulations from the Biden administration and action from states would be needed to get to President Joe Biden’s goal of cutting emissions 50% by 2030.

The bill also contains many tax incentives meant to bring down the cost of electricity with more renewables, and spur more American consumers to switch to electricity to power their homes and vehicles.

Lawmakers said the bill represents a monumental victory and is also just the start of what’s needed to combat the climate crisis.

“This isn’t about the laws of politics, this is about the laws of physics,” Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii told CNN. “We all knew coming into this effort that we had to do what the science tells us what we need to do.”

Key health care and tax policy in the bill

The bill would empower Medicare to negotiate prices of certain costly medications administered in doctors’ offices or purchased at the pharmacy. The Health and Human Services secretary would negotiate the prices of 10 drugs in 2026, and another 15 drugs in 2027 and again in 2028. The number would rise to 20 drugs a year for 2029 and beyond.

This controversial provision is far more limited than the one House Democratic leaders have backed in the past. But it would open the door to fulfilling a longstanding party goal of allowing Medicare to use its heft to lower drug costs.

Democrats are also planning to extend the enhanced federal premium subsidies for Obamacare coverage through 2025, a year later than lawmakers recently discussed. That way, they wouldn’t expire just after the 2024 presidential election.

To boost revenue, the bill would impose a 15% minimum tax on the income large corporations report to shareholders, known as book income, as opposed to the Internal Revenue Service. The measure, which would raise $258 billion over a decade, would apply to companies with profits over $1 billion.

Concerned about how this provision would affect certain businesses, particularly manufacturers, Sinema has suggested that she won changes to the Democrats’ plan to pare back how companies can deduct depreciated assets from their taxes. The details remain unclear.

However, Sinema nixed her party’s effort to tighten the carried interest loophole, which allows investment managers to treat much of their compensation as capital gains and pay a 20% long-term capital gains tax rate instead of income tax rates of up to 37%.

The provision would have lengthened the amount of time investment managers’ profit interest must be held from three years to five years to take advantage of the lower tax rate. Addressing this loophole, which would have raised $14 billion over a decade, had been a longtime goal of congressional Democrats.

In its place, a 1% excise tax on companies’ stock buybacks was added, raising another $74 billion, according to a Democratic aide.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Ella Nilsen, Tami Luhby, Katie Lobosco, Matt Egan and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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