WASHINGTON ― Senate Democrats plan to hold a procedural vote Saturday on their major domestic policy bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Thursday.
If all 50 Senate Democrats vote to advance the measure, the soonest the bill could get a final vote is early next week.
The legislation would allow Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry for lower prescription drug prices, a hugely popular policy change that Democrats have sought for years. The bill would invest more than $300 billion in green energy grants and tax incentives, and ultimately save the government hundreds of billions by funding stricter IRS enforcement and imposing a new minimum tax on the most profitable corporations.
Its passage would cap an unusually productive session of Congress and give President Joe Biden a major victory ahead of the November midterm elections.
“We have big stuff here,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told HuffPost on Thursday.
But Democrats have yet to secure the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who is reportedly pushing to make changes, including eliminating a provision that would tighten a tax loophole associated with hedge fund managers and private equity executives.
Sinema declined to speak to reporters Thursday. She was spotted deep in conversation on the Senate floor with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who largely wrote the bill in secret negotiations with Schumer.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also said he’s disappointed by the prescription drug provision, but has stopped short of saying he’d vote no. “I want to see it improved,” he told reporters Thursday.
Another obstacle is the Senate parliamentarian ― a behind-the-scenes Senate official who decides whether the bill’s various provisions are allowed under the Senate’s arcane “budget reconciliation” process. Reconciliation allows Democrats to pass their bill with a simple majority, meaning that if all 50 Democrats agree, they don’t need a single Republican vote.
Policies deemed “extraneous” by the parliamentarian under reconciliation rules have to be thrown out. The parliamentarian forced Democrats to ditch a federal minimum wage increase as part of a reconciliation bill last year.
GOP senators have lodged objections to just about every provision in the bill with the parliamentarian in hopes of killing or substantially weakening its structure. Democrats are still waiting to hear on the fate of their prescription drug proposal as well as several revenue provisions.
Wyden, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he’s optimistic Democrats will emerge from the reconciliation “gauntlet” with most of their bill intact. He praised Elizabeth MacDonough, who has served as parliamentarian since 2012, as a “straight shooter.”
Democrats had initially hoped to pass a much broader social policy bill known as “Build Back Better,” but couldn’t get Manchin’s agreement last year on things like paid leave and a monthly child allowance. Negotiations between Manchin and Schumer continued, however, even as it seemed there was no chance Democrats could coalesce around a more modest bill.
The bill’s new name is a nod to Manchin’s abiding concerns about rising prices. A number of high-profile economists have said the measure would slow inflation. The Congressional Budget Office said Thursday, however, that the legislation would have a “negligible effect” on inflation this year but might reduce it next year.
After the initial vote to proceed to the bill on Saturday, there will be up to 20 hours of debate, followed by a marathon session known as a “vote-a-rama,” where senators will vote on an unlimited number of amendments. That process typically lasts up to another 20 hours.
Republicans are hoping to convince Sinema and other moderates to join them in voting for some of their nonbinding amendments that are aimed at exposing Democratic divisions with an eye on the midterms.
Schumer on Thursday seemed to allow for the vote plan to slip, saying only, “We expect to vote on the motion to proceed to the reconciliation legislation on Saturday afternoon.”