The US Senate has today rejected the proposed amendment of a $430 billion measure sought by President Joe Biden, as Democrats forged ahead with efforts to pass a bill to control climate change and cut prescription drug costs for the elderly.
Senators, working over the weekend to pass a bill central to Biden’s domestic agenda, labored into the early morning hours in hopes of passing the bill before starting an August recess. The bill also seeks to tighten enforcement on tax payments from corporations and the wealthy.
“The time is now to move forward with a big, bold package for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the start of the debate on Saturday night.
He said the legislation contains “the boldest clean energy package in American history” to fight climate change while reducing consumer costs for some medicines and energy.
Democrats have drawn harsh attacks from Republicans over the legislation’s $430 billion in new spending and more than $740 billion in new revenues.
Nevertheless, Democrats said their bill has deep support among voters. They hope its passage in the Senate and House of Representatives by the end of next week will help Democratic candidates in the Nov. 8 midterm elections at a time when Biden, their party leader, suffers from anemic public approval ratings.
Democrats are battling to retain their narrow control of the Senate and House of Representatives.
After spending several hours on Saturday debating the legislation, senators dug in for a “Vote-a-Rama” in which Democratic and Republican amendments were offered in rapid-fire.
Many hours into the endeavor, there were no visible signs of senators running out of energy or amendments, having defeated more than a dozen of them and approving none so far.
Well into the process, Republicans forced votes on immigration amendments, including one to prompt hiring more border patrol agents while cutting other expenditures.
Another Republican proposal would have declared a Trump administration policy stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic that effectively closed down the US asylum system. The Biden administration has been in a legal tussle to replace the “Title 42” policy with what it described as a more humane and orderly system for migrants crossing the southwestern border with Mexico.
While the Title 42 amendment was defeated on a 50-50 vote, it is likely to become a campaign issue ahead of the November elections, forcing vulnerable Democratic senators in border states, such as Mark Kelly in Arizona, to defend their opposition.
Democrats were united in opposition to amendments, fearing any significant change could unravel their coalition of 50 senators needed to keep the legislation on track.
On Saturday, Schumer celebrated a decision by the chamber’s parliamentarian allowing the bill to be passed with only a simple majority, bypassing a filibuster rule requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation. That will enable Democrats to pass it over Republican objections.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, a former presidential candidate aligned with Democrats, was soundly defeated on the first amendment offered. It would have vastly expanded the bill’s number of prescription drugs eligible for price negotiation under the government’s Medicare insurance plan for the elderly.
The 99-1 vote against the amendment drew only Sanders’ support.
The Senate also overwhelmingly defeated a bid by Sanders to expand Medicare coverage for eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dental care.
This medical part of the wide-ranging bill, negotiated over several months by Democrats, would allow Medicare to begin negotiating in 2026 with the pharmaceutical industry over prices on a limited number of prescription drugs to reduce costs. It also would place a $2,000-per-year cap on out-of-pocket medication costs under a Medicare drug program.