After 18 months of arduous negotiations and a marathon night of debate, the US Senate on Sunday passed Joe Biden’s ambitious climate, tax and health bill – a significant victory for the president ahead of the crucial midterm elections.
As a unified bloc and with the landmark voice of Vice President Kamala Harris, Democrats approved the $430 billion spending plan that will go to the House of Representatives next week, where it is expected to pass before Biden takes effect.
The plan, crafted in sensitive talks with members of his Democratic Party’s right wing, would involve the largest ever US investment in climate action – $370 billion, aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 .
That would give Biden a clear victory on one of his key agenda items and help restore US leadership in tackling the global climate challenge.
– Electric cars –
The bill would give ordinary Americans a tax credit of up to $7,500 when they buy an electric car, as well as a 30 percent rebate when installing solar panels on their roofs.
It would also provide millions to protect and preserve forests – which in recent years have been increasingly devastated by wildfires during record heatwaves that scientists say are linked to global warming.
Billions of dollars in tax credits would also go to some of the country’s most polluting industries to help them transition to greener practices — a measure bitterly opposed by some liberal Democrats but who after months have accepted it as the least bad alternative have of frustration.
Biden, who came into office with promises of sweeping reforms, has seen his hopes dashed, then revived, then dashed again.
The narrow edge of Senate Democrats has effectively vetoed moderates like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who had previously used that power to block Biden’s much expansionary Build Back Better plan.
But in late July, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer managed to negotiate a compromise with West Virginian, whose economy is heavily dependent on coal mining.
And on Saturday, the senators finally opened their debate on the text.
– ‘Vote a rama’ –
Late in the day, senators launched a marathon process known as “vote-a-rama,” in which members can propose dozens of amendments and demand a vote on each.
This has allowed both Republicans, who see Biden’s plan as too expensive, and Liberal Democrats, who say it doesn’t go far enough, to make their opposition clear.
Influential progressive Senator Bernie Sanders used this platform throughout the evening to propose several changes aimed at strengthening the social elements in the legislation, which have been significantly weakened during months of negotiations.
The bill would allocate $64 billion to health initiatives and ensure cuts in some drug costs — which can be 10 times more expensive in the United States than in some other rich countries.
But progressive Democrats have long since abandoned their ambitions for free preschools and community colleges and expanded health care for the elderly.
“Millions of seniors will continue to have decayed teeth and lack the dentures, hearing aids or glasses they deserve,” Senate Sanders said. “This bill, as currently written, does nothing about it.”
But other Democrats, anxious to pass the law ahead of November’s midterm elections when it comes to controlling Congress, have opposed any change to the text.
To offset the plan’s massive spending, he would reduce the US deficit through a new minimum tax of 15 percent on companies with profits of $1 billion or more — a move targeting some who now pay far less.
It is estimated that this measure could generate more than $258 billion in tax revenue for the government over the next decade.
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