Senate Democrats this week are looking to press ahead with the multi-trillion dollar climate, taxes and health care package announced last week — and crossing their fingers that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) signs on.
The Senate is set to break for recess on Friday, giving lawmakers little time to get Sinema on board and bring the multi-trillion dollar spending bill over the finish line. The Arizona Democrat — whose support is needed to clear the package through budget reconciliation — has not yet said if she supports the deal.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he will bring the legislation to the floor this week.
But before then, the Senate is poised to vote — again — on a bill to expand health care eligibility for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. A coalition of Senate Republicans blocked the measure last week, ostensibly over budgetary concerns, despite the legislation previously passing with bipartisan support. A vote is scheduled for Monday.
If time permits, the Senate may also take up a resolution expressing support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO, which the House passed last month.
The House is out of session this week after breaking for August recess on Friday.
Senate Democrats push ahead with reconciliation
Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) shocked those inside and outside the Capitol last week when they announced a multi-billion dollar climate, taxes and health care package, resurrecting the spending talks that faltered earlier this year.
The deal was the product of closed-door negotiations between Schumer and Manchin, which reconvened in private after the West Virginia Democrat said he could not support new climate spending and tax reform following a concerning inflation report.
The package, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, includes $369 billion in energy security and climate investments and allocates $64 billion to extend Affordable Care Act subsidies for two years, bringing total new spending to $433 billion. The tax reforms in the bill are forecast to raise $739 billion in revenue.
Republicans felt betrayed by the Wednesday afternoon announcement, while Democrats roundly embraced the deal. However, Sinema remains a wildcard, and has not yet commented on the package.
The freshman Democrat from Arizona, who was key to previous reconciliation and infrastructure talks, refused to answer a series of questions from reporters when leaving the Capitol last week. Her office has only said she is reviewing the proposal.
Without Sinema’s support, the Democrats’ chances of passing the package will sink to zero. The caucus is looking to pass the measure through budget reconciliation, which allows lawmakers to buck the 60-vote legislative filibuster and pass bills by majority vote.
The math in the Senate is simple: with the chamber split 50-50, Democrats need all members on board to trigger a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.
The most likely sticking point for Sinema is the carried interest tax loophole, which the Schumer-Manchin deal would close. The tax preference allows asset managers to pay a 20 percent capital gains tax rate on income that is earned through managing profitable investments. Closing it would raise about $14 billion over the next decade.
Sinema has previously opposed closing the carried interest tax loophole. Manchin, however, says he is firm on keeping the carried interest provision in the package.
The West Virginia Democrat told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday he hoped Sinema would “be positive” about the package, but added “she will make her decision, and I respect that.”
Schumer last week said the Senate would vote on the bill this week, once the parliamentarian completes the process known as the “Byrd Bath,” in which she reviews the package to ensure that all provisions in the measure are related to the budget, per reconciliation rules.
Then the chamber will hold a “vote-a-rama,” a process that allows Republicans to offer amendments. After final passage in the Senate, House leaders have said they will reconvene the chamber to consider the measure.
But with the Senate set to break for recess on Friday, the clock is ticking for Democrats to pass the bill — the first step toward handing President Biden a significant legislative victory less than 100 days out from the midterm elections.
Senate to vote on toxic burn pits bill — again
The Senate on Monday is slated to hold another vote on the Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act, which would expand health care eligibility for the 3.5 million veterans who served following Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack and were exposed to toxic burn pits.
The legislation has ping-ponged between the House and Senate for several months, with lawmakers making small tweaks as it progressed. It calls for adding 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to the Department of Veterans Affair’s presumptive service connections.
The measure, however, hit an unexpected hurdle last week, after a group of Senate Republicans blocked the bill citing budgetary concerns. Twenty-five Republicans who previously voted in favor of the legislation changed their stance this time around, bringing the vote to 55-42 — five votes short of clearing a legislative filibuster.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who voted against the bill in June and last week, took to the floor to express his concern with a provision of the bill converting some $400 billion from discretionary spending to mandatory spending. Discretionary spending hinges on congressional appropriations, unlike mandatory spending.
Toomey pushed for an amendment to address his budgetary concern, which Democrats would not consent to, driving last week’s blockage.
Toomey appeared to suggest on Sunday that votes on GOP amendments would unlock support to pass the bill, telling CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday “I do think anybody who has an amendment ought to be able to get their amendment.”
“That probably means two or three amendment votes. We could bang that out tomorrow night, literally… and then pass the bill with probably 85 votes,” he added.
In June, the Senate passed the bill in an 84-14 vote. Schumer has set another vote for Monday night, and said he would stand by his previous offer of letting Toomey bring his amendment to the floor with a 60-vote threshold for passing.
Potential Senate vote on NATO resolution
If time permits, the Senate this week may vote on a resolution expressing support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO.
The House approved the resolution in a bipartisan 294-18 vote last month, backing the two Nordic countries’ entrance into the military alliance and opposing attempts by the Russian Federation to thwart or retaliate against their ascension into NATO.
Finland and Sweden submitted applications to join NATO in May, and were invited to join the military alliance in June. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June approved a resolution by voice vote that appealed to NATO expedite the Nordic countries’ membership.