WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Friday stood poised to pass key components of President Biden’s domestic policy agenda and limit Democrat efforts to enact a climate, tax and health care package that just weeks ago seemed dead.
Lawmakers are expected to return from their scheduled summer break for a day to vote on the bill, which has met unanimous opposition from Republicans. Mr. Biden is expected to sign the measure soon thereafter. The Senate approved it on Sunday.
The legislation would pour more than $370 billion into climate and energy programs aimed at helping the United States cut greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 40 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. It would also extend expanded subsidies under the Affordable Care Act by three years and fulfill a long-held Democrat goal of reducing prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices directly and capping annual deductibles for recipients at $2,000.
The package would be largely funded by tax hikes, including a new tax on corporate share buybacks and a minimum tax of 15 percent for wealthy companies. Initial analysis of the legislation found it could reduce the country’s deficit by as much as $300 billion in a decade.
“This life-changing legislation increases the leverage of the popular interest over the special interest,” spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi of California wrote in a letter to her colleagues this week. “This bill,” she added, “makes an enormous difference at the kitchen table of America’s families.”
What does the climate, health and tax law say?
Passing the law would complete a troubled stretch of negotiations for Democrats. For more than a year, they labored to find a compromise that could not only placate a left flank eager to pass a sweeping plan that would transform the nation’s social safety net, but also win the voices of those most important centrist holdouts unwilling to support billions in new spending as inflation soared.
The bill falls far short of the $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act that Ms. Pelosi fought for passage in the House of Representatives in November. This bill included far broader tax code changes, as well as billions of dollars to create a federal paid leave program, support most families with children, and expand housing, home care, and public education. Things came to a standstill in the Senate a month later when Senator Joe Manchin III. of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, dismissed it as excessive and withdrew from the talks.
But the end product, called the Inflation Reduction Act, is a significant victory for Democrats just months before they defend their narrow majority in Congress in November’s midterm elections. In her letter, Ms Pelosi acknowledged several priorities were being dropped to put together a tighter package and vowed that “we must never give up this fight – and will continue it in future legislation”.
At one point, when talks between Mr. Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, stalled last month, Democrats wrestled with the prospect of passing just a health care package. Once an agreement was reached, which included climate priorities and some tax increases, they backed the plan.
“While we’re heartbroken to see several essential parts of the care economy, housing and immigration left on the cutting room floor — as well as a successful Republican effort to remove insulin price caps for those with private insurance — we know the Inflation Reduction Act does Real progress on key progressive priorities,” said Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a statement following the Senate passage of the measure.
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Some centrist Democrats, particularly those from high-income states who have threatened to withhold their votes unless legislation caps state and local tax deductions by families, also announced their support.
“Because this bill does not increase taxes for families in my district, but significantly reduces their costs, I will vote in favor of it,” said New Jersey Democrat Rep. Mikie Sherrill.
Its passage comes just days after Mr. Biden signed into law both a $280 billion industrial policy bill that will prop up American chip manufacturing to better compete with China, and legislation that will improve medical benefits for veterans expand facing garbage fires, bases burned on the military, the latest in a string of legislative successes.
With Republicans unanimously opposed to the package, Democrats used the accelerated budget voting process to steer legislation through both chambers, as they did last year with the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. Republicans, cut out entirely from the process, were furious that the bill did little to fight inflation and criticized plans for tax hikes and more federal spending. (Many economists agree that this is likely to dampen inflation, albeit modestly and not immediately.)
“Having received an offer from Senate Democrats to take it or leave it with no opportunity to contribute or change the bill, I am appalled that the majority is again choosing to just take it,” he said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, said at a hearing Wednesday. He added, “It should come as no surprise that not a single Republican will vote for this bill, just as not a single Republican voted for the last reconciliation bill.”
Republicans have directed some of their anger at a proposal to invest $80 billion in the Internal Revenue Service. Democrats say it will bolster the historically underfunded agency and help crack down on wealthy tax dodgers and corporations, but Republicans have branded it a brutal attack on lower- and middle-class taxpayers. In response to the criticism, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen this week instructed the agency to ensure there is no surge in audits for small businesses or families earning less than $400,000.
Others scoffed at the fact that the entire House would not be present to vote on the bill. As of Friday morning, more than a third of House lawmakers had submitted the necessary paperwork needed to vote by proxy — a practice put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that is “resolving the ongoing public-sector emergency.” health” as a reason for not voting personally.
“This proxy ‘vote’ — due to a lie by most of those involved (signing that it’s about COVID) is being used (unlawfully) to pass tax increases, harmful energy regulations, fund IRS agents to harass citizens, and a massive increase in nepotism in the ‘big health care system,'” said Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy on twitter.
The package will help push the Biden administration to fulfill its promise to roughly halve emissions by 2030, although scientists and climate activists warn more congressional and executive action will be needed to reach that goal. The goal is to use tax legislation to motivate consumers and businesses to buy and invest in electric vehicles, solar panels and other renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power, and the facilities needed to build more of these items domestically.