House Is Set to Pass Climate, Tax and Health Package

WASHINGTON — The House was poised on Friday to pass major components of President Biden’s domestic agenda, capping Democrats’ effort to push into law a climate, tax and health care package that appeared dead just weeks ago.

Lawmakers are set to return from their scheduled summer recess for one day to vote on the legislation, which faces unanimous Republican opposition. Mr. Biden is expected to sign the measure soon after. 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 for three years expanded subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, as well as fulfill a long-held Democratic goal to lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prices and capping the annual out-of-pocket cost for recipients at $2,000.

The package would be financed largely by tax increases, including a new tax on company stock buybacks and a 15 percent corporate minimum tax for wealthy companies. Initial analyses of the legislation found that it could reduce the nation’s deficit by as much as $300 billion over a decade.

“This life-changing legislation increases the leverage of the people’s interest over the special interest,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California wrote this week in a letter to her colleagues. “This bill,” she added, “makes a tremendous difference at the kitchen table of America’s families.”

The passage of the legislation would cap an arduous stretch of negotiations for Democrats. For more than a year, they labored to find a compromise that could not only appease a left flank eager to pass an expansive plan that would transform the nation’s social safety net, but that would also secure the votes of key centrist holdouts reluctant to endorse billions in new spending as inflation climbed.

The bill falls far short of the $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Act, which Ms. Pelosi wrangled to passage in the House in November. That bill included far more substantial changes to the tax code, as well as billions of dollars to create a federal paid leave program, provide support for most families with children, and expand housing, home care and public education. It stalled in the Senate a month later, when Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, rejected it as exorbitant and walked away from talks.

But the final product, called the Inflation Reduction Act, is a significant victory for Democrats just months before they defend their narrow congressional majorities in the November midterm elections. In her letter, Ms. Pelosi acknowledged that several priorities had been dropped to assemble a narrower package and vowed that “we must never give up that fight — and will continue it in future legislation.”

At one point, as talks between Mr. Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, faltered last month, Democrats grappled with the prospect of enacting just a health care package. Once a deal that included climate priorities and some tax increases was struck, they rallied behind the plan.

“While we are heartbroken to see several essential pieces on 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 that the Inflation Reduction Act takes real steps forward on key progressive priorities,” Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement after Senate passage of the measure.

Some centrist Democrats, notably those from high-income states who had threatened to withhold their votes if the legislation did not address a cap on how much families can deduct in state and local taxes, also announced their support.

“Because this legislation does not raise taxes on families in my district, but in fact significantly lowers their costs, I will be voting for it,” said Representative Mikie Sherrill, Democrat of New Jersey.

Its passage will come just days after Mr. Biden signed both a $280 billion industrial policy bill that will shore up America’s chip manufacturing in an effort to better compete with China and legislation that will expand medical benefits for veterans exposed to trash fires that burned on military bases, the latest in a string of legislative successes.

With Republicans unanimously opposed to the package, Democrats used the fast-track budget reconciliation process to navigate the legislation through both chambers, as they did last year with the $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package. Cut entirely out of the process, Republicans fumed that the bill did little to address inflation and criticized the plans for tax increases and more federal spending. (Many economists agree it is likely to dampen inflation, though modestly and not immediately.)

“Having been left with a ‘take it or leave it’ offer from the Senate Democrats, with no opportunity to provide input or to amend the bill, I am appalled that the majority is once again choosing to simply take it,” Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, said at a hearing on 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 trained their ire in part on 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 evaders and corporations, but Republicans have branded it a heavy-handed attack on lower- and middle-class taxpayers. In response to the criticism, Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, instructed the agency this week to ensure that there is not an uptick in audits for small businesses or families that make less than $400,000.

Others scoffed at the fact that the entire House would not be present to vote on the legislation. As of Friday morning, more than a third of House lawmakers had filed the necessary paperwork needed to vote by proxy — a practice instituted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that cites “the ongoing public health emergency” as a reason for being unable to vote in person.

“This proxy ‘voting’ — by virtue of a lie by most involved (signing that it is COVID related) will be used (unlawfully) to pass tax increases, harmful energy regulations, fund IRS agents to harass citizens, & a massive increase of ‘big healthcare’ cronyism,” Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas, said on…

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2022-08-12 06:03:17

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