WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Senate passed a sweeping US$430 billion (S$594 billion) Bill intended to fight climate change, lower drug prices and raise some corporate taxes on Sunday (Aug 7), a major victory for President Joe Biden that Democrats hope will aid their chances of keeping control of Congress in this year's elections.
After a marathon, two-day weekend session of debate and Republican efforts to derail the package, the Senate approved the legislation known as the "Inflation Reduction Act," by a 51-50 party line vote, with Vice-President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking ballot.
The action sends the measure on to the House of Representatives for an expected Friday vote that could forward it, in turn, to the White House for Mr Biden's signature.
"The time is now to move forward with a big, bold package for the American people," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the start of debate on Saturday night. He said the legislation contains "the boldest clean energy package in American history" to fight climate change while reducing consumer costs for energy and some medicines.
Democrats have drawn harsh attacks from Republicans over the legislation's US$430 billion in new spending and roughly US$740 billion in new revenue.
Nevertheless, Democrats hope its passage, ahead of an August recess, will help Democratic House and Senate candidates in the Nov 8 midterm elections at a time when Mr Biden is suffering from anemic public approval ratings amid high inflation.
The legislation is aimed at reducing carbon emissions and shifting consumers to green energy, while cutting prescription drug costs for the elderly and tightening enforcement on taxes for corporations and the wealthy.
Because the measure pays for itself and reduces the federal deficit over time, Democrats contend that it will help bring down inflation, an economic liability that has also weighed on their hopes of retaining legislative control in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.
Republicans, arguing that the Bill will not address inflation, denounce the measure as a job-killing, left-wing spending wish list that could undermine growth when the economy is in danger of falling into recession.
Democrats approved the Bill by using a parliamentary maneuver called "reconciliation," which allows budget-related legislation to avoid the 100-seat chamber's 60-vote threshold for most bills and pass on a simple majority.
After several hours of debate, the Senate began a rapid-fire "vote-a-rama" on Democratic and Republican amendments on Saturday evening that stretched into Sunday afternoon. Democrats repelled more than two dozen Republican amendments, points of order and motions, all intended to scupper the legislation.
Any change in the bill's contents wrought by an amendment could have unraveled the Democrats' 50-senator coalition needed to keep the legislation on track.
But they were unable to muster the votes necessary to retain a provision to cap soaring insulin costs at US$35 a month on the private health insurance market, which fell outside the reconciliation rules. Democrats said the legislation would still limit insulin costs for those on Medicare.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, offered a number of amendments to expand Medicare, create a civilian conservation corps and reduce child poverty, only to be defeated by lawmakers from both parties.
In a foreshadowing of the coming fall election campaign, Republicans used their amendment defeats to attack vulnerable Democrats who are seeking reelection in November.
"Democrats vote again to allow chaos on the southern border to continue," read a statement from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell that named Democratic Senators Mark Kelly of Arizona, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Raphael Warnock of Georgia.
All four are facing tight contests for reelection. That followed the defeat of a Republican proposal to codify into law a Trump administration policy stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic that effectively closed down the US asylum system for immigrants.
The Biden administration has struggled in court to replace the "Title 42" policy with what it described as a more humane and orderly system for migrants crossing the border with Mexico.
The Bill was more than 18 months in the making as Mr Biden’s original sweeping Build Back Better plan was whittled down in the face of opposition from Republicans and key legislators from his own party.
“It required many compromises. Doing important things almost always does,” Mr Biden said in a statement.