Key US Senator Sinema finally agrees to $592b drug, energy bill

Senator Kyrsten Sinema's agreement was a critical breakthrough. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat-Arizona, said Thursday (Aug 4) evening that she would support moving forward with her party's climate, tax and health care package, clearing the way for a major piece of President Joe Biden's domestic agenda to move through the Senate in the coming days.

Democrats intend to pass the US $430 billion (S$592 billion) drug pricing, energy and tax Bill over Republican objections, subject to a Senate arbiter's approval of the Bill.

With the 100-seat Senate split 50-50, Democrats plan to pass the bill without Republican support through a parliamentary process known as reconciliation. But they cannot afford to lose support from a single lawmaker.

Sinema's agreement was a critical breakthrough.

Another worry is Covid-19 - senators can only vote in person, so Schumer will need his full caucus to be present and healthy to pass the measure if Republicans remain unified in opposition.

To win Sinema's support, Democratic leaders agreed to drop a US$14 billion tax increase on some wealthy hedge fund managers and private equity executives that she had opposed.

In a statement, Sinema said she had also won the inclusion of changes that would "protect advanced manufacturing and boost our clean energy economy," but she did not offer details.

Sinema said she was ready to move forward with the package, provided that the Senate's top rules officials signed off on it.

Sinema had been the final holdout on the package after Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat -West Virginia, struck a deal with top Democrats last week that resurrected a plan that had appeared to have collapsed.

It brought Democrats one step closer to enacting the package and salvaging key pieces of their domestic agenda, beginning with a series of votes this weekend.

It came just over a week after Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, stunned their colleagues with an agreement to include hundreds of billions of dollars for climate and energy programmes and tax increases in the legislation, on top of a proposal to reduce the price of prescription drugs and extend health insurance subsidies.

The measure needs the unanimous support of Democrats to move forward in the 50-50 Senate, so the party cannot afford even one defection.

Schumer confirmed the news in a statement that he had reached an agreement "that I believe will receive the support of the entire Senate Democratic conference."

He said the revised legislation would be released Saturday. "The agreement preserves the major components of the Inflation Reduction Act, including reducing prescription drug costs, fighting climate change, closing tax loopholes exploited by big corporations and the wealthy, and reducing the deficit," he said.

The deal will "put us one step closer to enacting this historic legislation into law."

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