Senate Democrats cleared a huge hurdle Thursday night by securing Kyrsten Sinema’s support for a modified signature climate, tax and health care proposal, and will move forward on the legislation on Saturday.
The Arizona Democratic centrist announced that she’s signed off on the legislation after winning tweaks that include the removal of a narrowed loophole for taxation of certain investment income, a provision known as carried interest. In a statement, Sinema said she’s also won changes that would “protect advanced manufacturing, and boost our clean energy economy.”
It was a big, early win for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s caucus, even as some of the bill’s specifics are still clouded in uncertainty.
Schumer said in a statement Thursday night that “I believe” the party-line bill will get unanimous Democratic support and previewed the introduction of a final version on Saturday that will “put us one step closer to enacting this historic legislation into law.” He said it preserves “major” pieces of his earlier agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
The new agreement with Sinema includes a new 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks that will bring in $73 billion, far more than the $14 billion raised by the carried interest provision, according to a Democrat familiar with the deal.
The deal with Sinema also adds roughly $5 billion in drought resiliency to the bill, according to another person familiar, and changes portions of the corporate minimum tax structure to remove accelerated depreciation of investments from the agreement. That depreciation-related change will cost about $40 billion.
All told, the agreement with Sinema is expected to increase the bill’s original $300 billion deficit reduction figure. And it comes hours after she was on the floor whipping colleagues to support the final confirmation of Roopali Desai, her nominee to a fill an open circuit court judgeship. Desai was nominated only two months ago, a lightning-quick confirmation for the Senate.
Earlier in the day, 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. 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 still more uncertainty to button up in those days. Democrats and Republicans will continue arguing into Friday about what can be included in the bill. But Sinema’s commitment to the package removes a major question mark ahead of an unlimited “vote-a-rama” on amendments.
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.).
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.
The legislation he helped hash out with Schumer last month — talks Sinema was not initially involved in — 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 third 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 fourth Democratic aide. The bill also provides subsidies to help companies pay for technologies to prevent methane emissions.
When asked earlier if he was considering 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.
“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.
Despite the changes from Sinema and potential changes from the parliamentarian, Democrats vow their bill will ultimately achieve many long-sought goals of the party.
“It’s going to be fundamentally what it is,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “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.”