By ALAN FRAM – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate MP narrowed down Democrats’ plan to curb drug prices but left it largely intact on Saturday, Democrats said, as party leaders prepared to send their sprawling economic bill across the room.
Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s arbitrator, also gave the green light to clean air provisions in the measure, including one that limits electric vehicle tax credits to those collected in the US, Democrats said.
The impartial official’s statements came as Democrats planned to begin voting in the Senate on Saturday on their comprehensive package covering climate change, energy, health care costs, taxes and even deficit reduction. Party leaders have said they believe they now have the unity they need to pass the legislation through the 50-50 Senate, with a casting vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.
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MacDonough said provisions should be removed that would force drug manufacturers to pay discounts if their prices exceed inflation for products they sell to private insurers. However, pharmaceutical companies would have to pay those fines if their prices for drugs purchased by Medicare go too high.
The removal of drug manufacturers’ fines for raising private insurer prices was a clear setback for Democrats. The decision reduces incentives for drug companies to cap their rates, increasing costs for patients.
Erasing that language will reduce the $288 billion in 10-year savings that Democrats estimated total drug restrictions would bring — a reduction of perhaps tens of billions of dollars, analysts have said. But other restrictions on rising pharmaceutical costs remained, including letting Medicare negotiate the cost of the drugs it buys, limiting seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses and providing free vaccines.
The remaining pharmaceutical provisions caused Democrats to promote the drug language as a boon to consumers at a time when voters are outraged at the worst inflation in four decades.
“This is a great victory for the American people,” Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said in a statement. “While there was an unfortunate ruling that the inflation discount is more limited, the overall program remains intact and we are one step closer to finally engaging Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions of Americans.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said that while he was “disappointed” at the removal of penalties for higher drug prices for privately insured consumers, “the legislation nevertheless exerts significant control over wealth. of Big Pharma to manipulate prices.”
The MP’s decision came after a 10-day period in which Democrats revived key strands of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda after appearing to be dead. In quick deals with the Democrats’ two most unpredictable senators — first West Virginia conservative Joe Manchin, then Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, Schumer put together a broad package that, while a fraction of earlier, larger versions Manchin derailed, left the party a achievement against the backdrop of this fall’s congressional elections.
The MP signed a fee for the excess emissions of methane, a potent source of greenhouse gases, from oil and gas drilling. She also withdrew environmental grants to minority communities and other initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, said Thomas Carper, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, D-Del.
She passed a provision requiring union-scale wages to be paid if energy efficiency projects qualify for tax credits, and another that would limit electric vehicle tax credits to those cars and trucks assembled in the United States.
The order has met unanimous Republican opposition. But assuming Democrats fight a nonstop “vote-a-rama” of amendments — many designed by Republicans to derail the measure — they should be able to force the measure through the Senate.
House passage could come if that room returns briefly from recess on Friday.
“How will vote-a-rama be. It’s going to be hell,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said Friday of the approaching GOP amendments. He said that by backing the Democratic bill, Manchin and Sinema would “strengthen legislation that will make life harder for the average person” by raising energy costs with tax hikes and making it more difficult for companies to hire workers.
The bill provides spending and tax incentives to move to cleaner fuels and support coal to help reduce carbon emissions. Expiring subsidies that help millions of people pay private insurance premiums are being extended for three years, and there is $4 billion to help Western states fight the drought.
There would be a new minimum tax of 15% for some companies that earn more than $1 billion a year but pay much less than the current 21% corporate tax. A 1% tax would also be levied on companies that bought back their own shares, traded in after Sinema refused to support higher taxes on managers of private equity firms and hedge fund managers. The IRS budget would be pumped up to bolster tax collections.
While the final cost of the bill is still being determined, it would spend a total of more than $300 billion over 10 years to slow climate change, which analysts say would be the country’s largest investment in that effort, and billions more on health care. . It would bring in more than $700 billion in taxes and drug savings from the government, leaving about $300 billion for deficit reduction — a modest bite out of the projected 10-year deficits of many trillions of dollars.
Democrats are using special procedures that allow them to pass the measure without having to get the 60 majority that legislation often needs in the Senate.
It is the MP’s job to decide whether parts of the legislation should be scrapped for violating those rules, including requiring provisions to focus primarily on the federal budget and not on imposing new policies.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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