Dems hurtle toward critical Saturday vote on clinching domestic agenda

Dems hurtle toward critical Saturday vote on clinching domestic agenda

Senate Democrats will try to advance their signature climate, tax and health care proposal on Saturday, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said — a significant commitment as some of the bill’s specifics are still clouded in uncertainty.

Schumer said the chamber would take Friday off as he works to clarify a murky timeline for passing Democrats’ bill, which still faces multiple outstanding issues and one very important undecided senator. Schumer also warned on Thursday of “some late nights and extended debates” as he vowed to pass the legislation in the “coming days.”

There’s a lot of uncertainty to button up in those days. Democrats and Republicans will continue arguing into Friday about what can be included in the bill. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is still mum on the deal negotiated by Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as she seeks some changes to it. And there’s still an unlimited amendment “vote-a-rama” to get through.

The vote-a-rama is “going to start later than we imagine, it’s going to run longer than we would hope and it’s going to be more painful getting out of here than any of us have any reason to expect,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Coons said he didn’t expect the bill to undergo significant changes, though “Sinema will of course have some changes that she requests that reflect her priorities in her state.” He said he’s had three discussions with her so far about the bill.

The impending weekend session is a microcosm of the perpetual uncertainty hanging over the longest-running 50-50 Senate in history: Democrats need every single one of their side’s votes as the possibility of Covid-related absences hangs over the whip count, Republicans actually have some limited leverage, and the Senate’s nonpartisan rules referee maintains significant sway over their agenda.

The referee, formally known as the parliamentarian, will continue hearing arguments about whether the bill meets the chamber’s stringent rules for evading a filibuster. A ruling on prescription drugs could come as early as Friday, with the tax provisions coming after.

Democrats are seeking to ensure their legislation can enjoy the filibuster protections of the budget before making any move on the floor, according to a person familiar with the process. That timetable led Schumer to announce the expected Saturday motion to proceed to the bill.

Manchin and Sinema spoke on the Senate floor at length on Thursday afternoon, with Manchin at times becoming animated during the discussion. The West Virginian declined to comment on the conversation afterward.

His legislation would spend $369 billion on energy and climate change, extend Obamacare subsidies through 2024, direct Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs and send an estimated $300 billion to deficit reduction. It would be funded, in part, by a 15 percent corporate minimum tax on big companies and increased IRS enforcement.

The parliamentarian still has to review the Democrats’ updated prescription drug language as well as the package’s tax provisions, including electric vehicle tax credits. Those arguments will take place on Friday, according to a Democratic aide. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) legislation to reduce the cost of insulin is being included in the prescription drug provision but is likely to be subject to a challenge from Republicans.

“Regardless of the parliamentarian’s ruling, at the end of the day, the only way this doesn’t happen is if someone on the other side raises an objection,” Warnock said. “Only politics can block this.”

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee met with the Senate’s rules arbiter on Wednesday, in part to review a proposed fee for oil and gas companies that exceed a certain level of methane emissions, according to a second Democratic aide. The bill also provides subsidies to help companies pay for technologies to prevent methane emissions.

And then there’s the changes Sinema wants, including nixing a provision that would narrow the carried interest loophole for some investment income, which would bring in $14 billion in revenues, and adding roughly $5 billion in drought resiliency. Republicans are hopeful Sinema seeks further changes to the 15 percent corporate minimum tax on large corporations, which she helped negotiate last year, although that is a major part of the bill’s revenue and may prove tough to change on a tight timeline.

Asked if he is conjuring any changes to the painstakingly crafted corporate minimum tax, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said senators want the parliamentarian to review the tax legislation as written before making any subsequent changes. Sinema specifically has said she wants the parliamentarian review to occur before she weighs in on the bill.

“What we’ve been told is there’s an interest in waiting for the parliamentarian’s judgment, so that’s where we are,” Wyden said.

Between Sinema and the parliamentarian, Democrats expect some tweaks to their long-awaited bill, but don’t see major changes forthcoming — for now.

“I’m not in Sinema’s head and I don’t know how those discussions are going,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “But it’s going to be fundamentally what it is. It’s going to address climate in a significant way, it’s going to affect drug prices. It’s going to close some tax loopholes. I hope a lot of them.”

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Author: By Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine