Congress OKs Dems’ Climate, Health Law, a Biden Triumph

WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Congress on Friday gave final approval to Democrats’ flagship climate and health carehanding President Joe Biden a back-of-the-death triumph over coveted priorities the party hopes will bolster their prospects of retaining their House and Senate majorities in November’s election.

The House used a 220-207 party vote to pass the legislation, leading to hugs among Democrats on the House floor and cheers by White House staff watching on television. “Today the American people have won. Special interests lost,” tweeted the vacationing Biden, beaming in a photo of the White House watching the vote on TV from Kiawah Island, 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. Still, Democrats happily declared victory over top goals like providing Congress’s largest-ever investment in cutting carbon emissions, curbing pharmaceutical costs and taxing large corporations, hoping to show that they can force performance out of a routinely stalled Washington that often disappoints voters.

“Today is a holiday, a day when we take another big step in our momentous agenda,” said D-Calif. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who announced the final vote minutes later as she chaired the room. She said the measure “is timely and ensures that our families thrive and our planet survives.”

Republicans vehemently opposed the legislation, calling it a plethora of wasteful 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’ casting vote to back the measure. through that 50-50 room.

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

Biden’s initial 10-year $3.5 trillion proposal also provided free pre-kindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and relaxed immigration restrictions. That crashed after centrist Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., said it was too expensive, taking advantage of the influence every Democrat has in the equally divided Senate.

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Nevertheless, the final legislation remained substantive. The pillar is approximately $375 billion over 10 years to encourage industry and consumers to move from carbon-emitting to cleaner forms of energy. That includes $4 billion to cope with the catastrophic drought in the West.

Expenses, tax credits and loans would support technology such as solar panels, consumer efforts to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, emission control equipment for coal and gas-fired power plants, and air pollution controls for farms, ports and low-income communities.

Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay premiums for privately purchased health insurance policies over the next three years. Medicare would be given the power to negotiate drug costs, initially in 2026 for just 10 drugs. Medicare beneficiaries’ over-the-counter prescription costs would be capped at $2,000 starting in 2025, and paying no more than $35 a month for insulin, the precious diabetes drug, starting next year.

The bill would bring in about $740 billion in revenue over the decade, more than a third of government savings from lower drug prices. More would come from higher corporate taxes of some $1 billion, levies on companies buying back their own shares and stronger tax collections from the IRS. About $300 billion would remain to cover the budget deficits, a fraction of the estimated total of $16 trillion for that period.

Against the backdrop of GOP attacks on the FBI for its court-authorized search for sensitive documents at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, Republicans have repeatedly nullified the bill’s boost to the IRS budget. That’s set 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 “strike force coming in with AK-15s already loaded, ready to shoot a small business owner.”

Few IRS personnel are armed, and Democrats say the $80 billion budget increase would take ten years to replace waves of retirees, not just agents, and upgrade equipment. They have said typical families and small businesses would not be targeted, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen this week instructing the IRS not to “increase the proportion of small businesses or households below the $400,000 threshold” that would be monitored. .

Republicans say the legislation’s new business taxes will raise prices, worsening the country’s struggles with its worst inflation since 1981. Although Democrats have called the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, unbiased analysts say it will have a barely perceptible impact on prices.

The GOP also says the bill would raise taxes on lower- and middle-income families. An analysis by Congress’ unbiased Joint Taxation Committee, which excludes the bill’s health care and energy tax breaks, estimated that the corporate tax hikes that would marginally affect taxpayers, but indirectly, due in part to lower stock prices and wages.

“House Democrats have made sure voters will fire them this fall,” said House GOP campaign committee spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair. In an email, she listed dozens of Democrats in competitive reelection who will face Republican attacks for raising taxes and empowering the IRS “to target their voters.”

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

The bill will limit three months in which Congress passes legislation on veterans benefits, the semiconductor industry, gun checks for young buyers and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and adding 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 that dominates voters’ attention, Biden’s dangerously low popularity ratings and a steady history of midterm elections mistreating the White House party.

Biden called his $3.5 trillion plan Build Back Better. In addition to social and environmental initiatives, it proposed reversing Trump-era tax breaks for the rich and corporations and $555 billion for climate efforts, well above the money in Friday’s legislation.

With Manchin at those amounts, it was cut to a measure of about $2 trillion that Democrats passed through the House in November.. He also unexpectedly dropped that bill, receiving disdain from annoyed fellow Democrats from Capitol Hill and the White House.

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

Manchin won concessions for the fossil fuel industry he champions, including proceedings for more oil drilling on federal lands. That’s what Centrist Sen did. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., which eventually abolished the planned higher taxes on hedge fund managers and helped the drought funds win.

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

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