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House Dems Set for Climate, Health Win 08/12 06:05

   A flagship Democratic economic bill perched on the edge of House passage 
Friday, placing President Joe Biden on the brink of a back-from-the-dead 
triumph on his climate, health and tax goals that could energize his party 
ahead of November's elections.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A flagship Democratic economic bill perched on the edge 
of House passage Friday, placing President Joe Biden on the brink of a 
back-from-the-dead triumph on his climate, health and tax goals that could 
energize his party ahead of November's elections.

   Democrats were poised to muscle the measure through the narrowly divided 
House Friday over solid Republican opposition. They employed similar party 
unity and Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote Sunday to power the 
measure through the 50-50 Senate.

   The package is but a shadow of Biden's initial vision and was produced only 
after a year of often bitter infighting between party leaders, progressives and 
centrists led by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., empowered by that chamber's even 
split. Ultimately, Democrats thirsty to declare victory forged a compromise on 
abiding goals like reining in pharmaceutical costs, taxing large companies and, 
especially, curbing carbon emissions. They are hoping to show they can wring 
accomplishments from an often fractiously gridlocked Washington that alienates 
many voters.

   "Climate is a health issue. It's a jobs issue. It's a security issue. And 
it's a values issue for us," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told 
reporters this week. "I want more, of course, we always want more, but this is 
a great deal."

   The bill's pillar is about $375 billion over 10 years to encourage industry 
and consumers to shift from carbon-emitting to cleaner forms of energy, hailed 
by experts as Congress' biggest climate investment ever. That includes $4 
billion added to cope with the West's catastrophic drought.

   Spending, tax credits and loans would bolster technology like solar panels, 
consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment 
for coal- and gas-powered power plants and air pollution controls for farms, 
ports and low-income communities.

   In a pair of top Democratic health priorities, another $64 billion would 
help 13 million people pay premiums over the next three years for privately 
bought health insurance. Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs 
for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for only 10 drugs. Medicare 
beneficiaries' out-of-pocket prescription costs would be limited to $2,000 
starting in 2025, and starting next year they would pay no more than $35 
monthly for insulin, the costly diabetes drug.

   The bill would raise around $740 billion in revenue over the decade, over a 
third from government savings from lower drug prices. More would flow from 
higher taxes on some $1 billion corporations, levies on companies that 
repurchase their own stock and stronger IRS tax collections. Around $300 
billion would remain to defray budget deficits, a fraction of the period's 
projected total of $16 trillion.

   Republicans say the legislation's tax hikes will force companies to raise 
prices, worsening the nation's bout with its worst inflation since 1981 that is 
wounding Democrats' election prospects. Nonpartisan analysts say the measure 
will have negligible inflation impact one way or the other.

   Echoing other culture war themes, the GOP has criticized initiatives like 
tax breaks for clean energy and electric vehicles as wasteful liberal 
daydreams. "If the Green New Deal and corporate welfare had a baby, it would 
look like this," said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the House Ways and Means 
Committee's top Republican.

   Republicans say Democrats' plan to expand the IRS budget, aimed at 
collecting about $120 billion in unpaid taxes, envisions 87,000 agents who'd be 
coming after families. Democrats called foul, saying their $80 billion IRS 
budget boost would be to replace waves of retirees, not just agents, and to 
modernize equipment, and say families and small businesses earning below 
$400,000 annually would not be targeted.

   The GOP also says the bill would raise taxes on lower- and middle-income 
families. An analysis by Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, 
which didn't include the bill's tax breaks for health care and energy, 
estimated that the corporate tax boosts would marginally affect those 
taxpayers, partly due to lower stock prices and wages.

   The bill caps a fertile three months in which Congress has voted to improve 
veterans' health benefits, gird the semiconductor industry, moderately 
strengthen gun restrictions for younger buyers, finance Ukraine's war with 
Russia and add Finland and Sweden to NATO. All passed with bipartisan support, 
suggesting Republicans also want to display their productive side.

   It's unclear voters will reward Democrats for the legislation after months 
of painfully high inflation dominating voters' attention. Though record 
gasoline prices have dipped, Biden's popularity dangles damagingly low and 
midterm elections have a consistent history of ending careers of lawmakers from 
the party that holds the White House.

   Democrats' economic bill had its roots in early 2021, after Congress 
approved a $1.9 trillion measure over GOP opposition to combat the 
pandemic-induced economic downturn. Emboldened, the new president and his party 
reached further.

   They initially produced an ambitious 10-year, $3.5 trillion environment and 
social plan they called Build Back Better. It featured free prekindergarten, 
paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits, increases for 
education and housing and an easing of immigration restrictions. It sought to 
roll back Trump-era tax breaks for the rich and corporations and proposed $555 
billion for climate efforts, well above the resources in Friday's legislation.

   With Manchin opposing those amounts, it was sliced to a roughly $2 trillion 
measure that Democrats moved through the House in November. Just before 
Christmas, Manchin unexpectedly sank that bill, citing fears of inflation and 
international uncertainty and earning brickbats from exasperated fellow 
Democrats from Capitol Hill and the White House.

   With on-and-off closed-door talks between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader 
Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., seemingly dying, the two lawmakers shocked Washington 
and announced agreement last month on the new, pared-down package.

   Manchin won billions for carbon capture technology for the fossil fuel 
industries he champions, plus procedures for more oil drilling on federal lands 
and promises for faster energy project permitting.

   Centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also used her leverage for late 
concessions, eliminating planned higher taxes on hedge fund managers and 
helping win the drought funds.

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