Senate Democrats battle to pass $430 billion climate, drug bill

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Washington, Aug. 7 (BNA): The US  Senate has begun debating a Democratic bill to address key elements of President Joe Biden's agenda - tackling climate change, lowering the costs of medication for the elderly and energy, while forcing corporations and the wealthy to pay more taxes.

The debate began after the Senate voted 51-50 to move ahead with the legislation. 

Vice President Kamala Harris broke a tie vote, with all 50 Republicans in opposition, Reuters reported.

The Senate was set to debate the bill for up to 20 hours before diving into an arduous, time-consuming amendment process called a "vote-a-rama."

Democrats and Republicans were poised to reject each other's amendments, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer maneuvered to keep his 50-member caucus united behind a bill that was negotiated over several months. If even one Democrat were to peel off, the entire effort would be doomed in the evenly split 50-50 Senate.

The Senate parliamentarian determined that the lion's share of the healthcare provisions in the $430 billion bill could be passed with only a simple majority, bypassing a filibuster rule requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation and enabling Democrats to pass it over Republican objections.

Democrats hope that the legislation will give a boost to their candidates in the November 8 midterm elections in which Biden's party is in an uphill battle to retain its narrow control of the Senate and House of Representatives. 

The Democrats cast the legislation as a vehicle to combat inflation, a prime concern of US voters this year.

“The bill, when passed, will meet all of our goals: fighting climate change, lowering healthcare costs, closing tax loopholes abused by the wealthy, and reducing the deficit," Schumer said in a Senate speech.

There are three main parts to the bill's tax provisions: a 15% minimum tax on corporations and the closing of loopholes that the wealthy can use to avoid paying taxes; tougher IRS enforcement; and a new excise tax on stock buybacks.

The legislation has $430 billion in new spending along with raising more than $740 billion in new revenues. 

Democrats have said the legislation by 2030 would result in a 40% reduction in US carbon emissions, blamed for climate change.