Congress approves Dems’ climate, health care bill, a Biden triumph

WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Congress gave final approval on Friday to the Democrats’ landmark climate and health care bill.offering President Joe Biden a triumph back from the dead on coveted priorities that the party hopes will bolster their chances of retaining their House and Senate majorities in November’s election.

The House used a 220-207 party line vote to pass the legislation, prompting hugs among Democrats on the House floor and cheers from White House staff watching on TV. “Today the American people won. Special interests lost,” tweeted the vacationing Biden, who was shown beaming in a photo from the White House as he watched the vote on TV from Kiawah Island, in South Carolina He said he would sign the law next week.

The measure is just a shadow of the larger, more ambitious plan to boost environmental and social programs that Biden and his party unveiled early last year. Even so, Democrats have happily declared victory on high-profile goals such as delivering the biggest investment Congress has ever made in cutting carbon emissions, containing pharmaceutical costs and taxing big business, in the hope to show they can wrest accomplishments from a regularly stalled Washington that often disillusions voters.

“Today is a day of celebration, a day we take another giant leap in our important agenda,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who minutes later announced the vote. final as she presided over the chamber. She said the measure “meets the moment, ensuring our families thrive and our planet survives.”

Republicans have strongly opposed the legislation, calling it a cornucopia of unnecessary liberal daydreams that would raise taxes and the cost of living for families. They did the same on Sunday, but Senate Democrats banded together and used Vice President Kamala Harris’ deciding vote to fuel the measure. through this room 50-50.

“Democrats, more than any other majority in history, 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 their eyes.”

Biden’s original 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal also included free preschool, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and eased immigration restrictions. who crashed after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., said it was too costly, using the influence of every Democrat in an evenly divided Senate.

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Yet the final legislation remained substantial. Its pillar is about $375 billion over 10 years to encourage industry and consumers to switch from carbon emissions to cleaner forms of energy. This includes $4 billion to deal with the catastrophic drought in the West.

Spending, tax credits and loans would bolster technologies such as solar panels, consumer efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes, emission reduction equipment for coal and gas power plants and air pollution controls for farms, ports and low-income communities.

Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay premiums over the next three years for private health insurance. Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for just 10 drugs. Prescription fees for Medicare beneficiaries would be capped at $2,000 starting in 2025, and starting next year they would pay no more than $35 a month for insulin, the expensive diabetes drug.

The bill would generate about $740 billion in revenue over the decade, with more than a third coming from government savings from lower drug prices. More would come from a corporate tax hike of about $1 billion, levies on companies that buy back their own stock, and stronger IRS tax collections. About $300 billion would remain to cover budget shortfalls, a fraction of the $16 trillion projected total for the period.

Amid GOP attacks on the FBI over its court-authorized search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate for sensitive documents, Republicans have repeatedly trashed the budget bill’s increase from the IRS. It aims to collect about $120 billion in unpaid taxes over the next decade, and Republicans have falsely 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 officers, “many of whom will be trained in the use of deadly force, to go after any American citizen”. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Thursday on “Fox and Friends” if there would be an “IRS strike force coming in with AK-15s already loaded, ready to shoot a small contractor.” .

Few IRS staff are armed, and Democrats say the bill’s $80 billion budget increase over 10 years would be aimed at replacing waves of retirees, not just agents, and modernizing the ‘equipment. They said families and typical small businesses would not be targeted, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen this week ordering the IRS not to “increase the share of small businesses or households below the $400,000 threshold.” ” which would be audited.

Republicans say the legislation’s new business taxes will raise prices, worsening the nation’s fight with its worst inflation since 1981. Although Democrats called the measure a cut inflation bill, analysts not supporters say it will have a barely perceptible impact on prices.

The GOP also says the bill would raise taxes for low- and middle-income families.. An analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation of Congress, which did not include the bill’s tax breaks for health care and energy, found that corporate tax increases would marginally affect those taxpayers, but indirectly, in part through falling stock prices and wages.

“House Democrats assured voters would fire them this fall,” said House GOP Campaign Committee spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair. In an email, she listed dozens of Democrats in competitive re-elections who will face Republican attacks for raising taxes and allowing the IRS “to target their voters.”

Democratic-leaning interest groups had their own warnings. “We will ensure that every Republican who votes against this bill is held accountable for prioritizing polluters and corporate vested interests over the health and well-being of their constituents,” Tiernan said. Sittenfeld, a senior official with the League of Conservation Voters.

The bill covers three months in which Congress approved legislation on veterans’ benefits, the semiconductor industry, gun controls for young buyers and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the addition of Sweden and Finland to NATO. All passed with bipartisan support, suggesting Republicans also want to show their productive side.

It’s unclear whether voters will reward Democrats for the legislation after months of painfully high inflation dominating voters’ attention, Biden’s dangerously low approval ratings and a steady history of midterm elections hitting the bull’s eye. party holding the White House.

Biden called his $3.5 trillion plan Build Back Better. Along with social and environmental initiatives, he has proposed cutting Trump-era tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and $555 billion for climate efforts, well above the money earmarked in Friday’s legislation. .

With Manchin objecting to those amounts, it was whittled down to a roughly $2 trillion measure that Democrats pushed through the House in November.. He also unexpectedly sunk that bill, drawing scorn from his exasperated fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill and the White House.

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

Manchin won concessions for the fossil fuel industries he champions, including procedures for more oil drilling on federal lands. Just like centrist Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, which ended up eliminating the higher taxes slated on hedge fund managers and helped win the funds out of the drought.


Associated Press reporter Seung Min Kim at Kiawah Island and Congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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