How the battle over the Democrats’ climate, tax and health bill will play out
Senate Democrats are girding themselves for a battle royal with Republicans over a 700-plus-page bill that will reform the tax code, tackle climate change, lower drug costs and reduce the deficit in hopes of delivering what would become President Biden’s centerpiece legislative achievement.
While the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that Democrats enacted last year was a bigger bill in terms of dollars spent, the Inflation Reduction Act will deliver on what Democrats have promised for years.
It would require profitable corporations to pay more in taxes, reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change, lower the price of many prescription drugs and preserve the affordability of Affordable Care Act health plans.
The legislation will move under special budget reconciliation rules that will allow Democrats to avoid a GOP filibuster and pass it with a simple majority. But to stay in compliance with the reconciliation rules, the legislation must be strictly focused on spending, revenues or the federal debt limit.
Significant policy changes that have only a tangential impact on spending or revenues are violations of the Senate’s Byrd Rule — named after former Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).
Senators say there are a lot of unanswered questions heading into the debate, but they have a general idea of how it will play out over the weekend.
The Senate will convene at noon on Saturday and hold a vote at 12:30 p.m. on a motion to discharge a nominee to serve as assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency out of committee. This will serve as an attendance vote to make sure all 50 members of the Democratic caucus are present.
Eighty-two-year-old Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has missed weeks of votes at the Capitol after falling and breaking his hip in June, is expected to be back on the floor for votes.
At some point later in the day, the Senate will vote on the motion to proceed to the Inflation Reduction Act, which is expected to break down strictly along party lines.
Leaders on Friday said they expected all 50 Senate Democrats and all 50 Senate Republicans to be present for the opening vote, which means Vice President Harris will be on hand to break a 50-50 tie. Harris also voted to break the tie on the motion to proceed to the American Rescue Plan in March of last year.
That would then trigger up to 20 hours of debate on the bill, which could stretch late into the evening or past midnight Saturday. The 20 hours of debate would be evenly divided between the parties.
At some point, Schumer will have to finish negotiating some of the provisions of the bill that were still unresolved Friday afternoon, such as money requested by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to improve her state’s drought resiliency.
Republican senators said earlier in the week that they intended to use their full allotment of 10 hours to speak on the bill, which would likely mean stretching debate time into Sunday.
But Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Friday that his Republican colleagues are now eager to speed up the debate so they can move more quickly to offering amendments to the legislation.
“There will probably be an interest in getting to amendments fairly quickly,” he said, predicting that amendment votes could begin as soon as Saturday afternoon.
Still, Thune didn’t rule out the possibility that Senate Republicans may try to drag out consideration of the massive bill by forcing the clerks to read its text out loud on the floor for several hours, or by using other procedural delays.
“Yet to be determined. I don’t think we know for sure the answer to that because any member can do that,” he said.
Senators are allowed up to 20 hours of debate time, but they can yield some of that back.
Then senators would begin voting on an open-ended series of amendments, a process known as a vote-a-rama.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the ranking member of the Budget Committee, on Friday vowed to make the process as painful as possible for Democrats.
“What will vote-a-rama be like? It’ll be like hell,” Graham declared. “They deserve this.”
He said centrist senators such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema are “empowering legislation that will make the average person’s life more difficult at a time they can’t afford higher gas taxes.
Senate Republicans estimate requiring votes on between 40 and 50 amendments.
Their goal will be to inflict as much political damage as possible on vulnerable Democrats running for re-election in November such as Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
Senate Republicans say they will force Democrats to take tough votes on border security, energy prices, crime prevention, inflation.
“Expect to see amendments on all of those things,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) says he plans to offer an amendment related to the Title 42 health order that bars migrants from staying in the country to await the processing of asylum claims.
Lankford introduced a bill with Sinema, Manchin, Kelly, Hassan, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and several Republicans in April to delay the end of the Title 42 order until the Biden administration produced a comprehensive plan to secure the border.
A federal judge blocked the Biden administration from lifting Title 42 in May.
Republicans hope they can pressure vulnerable Democrats to vote with all 50 members of the GOP conference to adopt an amendment to the bill that will make the rest of the legislation unpalatable to the rest of Senate Democrats. But they acknowledge it’s a long-shot strategy.
They predict that Democratic leaders will offer side-by-side amendments to give vulnerable Democratic senators such as Kelly and Warnock political cover not to vote for any of the Republican ones.
At the end of the vote-a-rama, Schumer will offer a substitute amendment that will make any final changes he wants to add to the Inflation Reduction Act and strip out any amendments that have may have become attached during the vote-a-rama that would imperil final Senate passage or endanger the bill’s prospects in the House.
Republicans are trying to pressure Manchin and Sinema to oppose the final wraparound amendment so that some amendments have a chance of being included in the final bill.
“The question for both Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema is if any of these amendments succeed at the end, will you or will you not vote for the wraparound amendment,” Thune said, adding, “I think we kind of expect the Democrats to fall in” with their leaders’ wishes.
The vote-a-rama will be capped by a final vote on the legislation, which if successful would send it onto the House and then Biden’s desk.
Schumer admitted Friday that he still doesn’t know exactly what to expect in terms of when senators will take up the motion to proceed and when the amendment votes will begin or end. But he feels confident he has final votes to pass the bill in the next few days.
“We’re feeling pretty good,” he said. “I’m pleased we have reached an agreement on the Inflation Reduction Act that I believe will receive the support of the entire Senate Democratic conference.”