Senate parliamentarian OKs most of Dems’ drug price controls

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate congressman scaled back the Democrats’ plan to cut drug prices but left it largely untouched on Saturday, Democrats said, as party leaders prepared to start moving their sprawling economic bill through the room.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber rules arbiter, also gave the green light to air quality provisions in the measure, including one limiting tax credits for electric vehicles to those assembled in the United States. , said Democrats.

The nonpartisan official’s decisions came as Democrats planned to begin votes in the Senate on Saturday on their sweeping agenda on climate change, energy, health care costs, taxes and even deficit reduction. Party leaders said they believe they now have the unity they will need to push the legislation through the Senate 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris’s deciding vote.

MacDonough said provisions that would require drugmakers to pay rebates if their prices exceed inflation for products they sell to private insurers must be scrapped. Pharmaceutical companies, however, would have to pay these penalties if the prices of drugs purchased by Medicare rise too much.

Removing sanctions on drugmakers for raising prices from private insurers was a clear setback for Democrats. The decision reduces incentives for pharmaceutical companies to limit their fees, which increases costs for patients.

Erasing that language will reduce the $288 billion in 10-year savings that the Democrats’ global drug cuts were supposed to generate — a reduction of perhaps tens of billions of dollars, analysts say. But other restrictions on rising pharmaceutical costs have survived, including letting Medicare negotiate the costs of the drugs it buys, capping out-of-pocket expenses for seniors and providing free vaccines.

The surviving pharmaceutical provisions have left Democrats promoting drug talk as a boon to consumers at a time when voters are enraged by the worst inflation in four decades.

“This is a major victory for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said in a statement. “Although there was an unfortunate decision that inflation reimbursement has a more limited scope, the overall program remains intact and we are on the verge of finally taking on Big Pharma and reducing drug prices. Rx for millions of Americans.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said that while he was “disappointed” that penalties for higher drug prices for privately insured consumers had been dropped, “the legislation nevertheless puts a substantial brake on Big Pharma’s ability to raise prices.”

The parliamentarian’s decision came after a 10-day period in which Democrats resurrected key elements of President Joe Biden’s national agenda after their apparent deaths. In quick deals with the two most unpredictable senators in the Democrats – the first conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginiathen Arizona centrist Kyrsten Sinema —Schumer has pieced together a large package that, although a fraction of earlier versions larger than Manchin derailed, would give the party a feat in the context of this fall’s congressional elections.

The parliamentarian approved a levy on excess emissions of methane, a potent contributor of greenhouse gases, from oil and gas drilling. She also left behind environmental grants to minority communities and other carbon-reduction initiatives.said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del.

She approved a provision requiring union-wide wages to be paid if energy efficiency projects are to qualify for tax credits, and another that would limit electric vehicle tax credits to cars and trucks. assembled in the USA.

The blanket measure faces unanimous Republican opposition. But assuming Democrats fight an unbroken “vote-a-rama” of amendments — many of which are designed by Republicans to derail the measure — they should be able to force the measure through the Senate.

The move home could take place when this room returns briefly from recess on Friday.

“What will the vote-a-rama look like. It will be like hell,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said Friday of the approaching GOP amendments. He said that by supporting the Democratic bill, Manchin and Sinema are “strengthening legislation that will make life harder for the average person” by forcing energy costs with tax increases and making it harder for businesses to hire workers.

The bill proposes spending and tax incentives to switch to cleaner fuels and support coal with help to reduce carbon emissions. The expiration of subsidies that help millions pay private insurance premiums would be extended by three years, and $4 billion is earmarked to help Western states fight drought.

There would be a new minimum tax of 15% on certain corporations that earn more than $1 billion a year but pay significantly less than the current corporate tax of 21%. There would also be a 1% tax on companies buying back their own shares, traded after Sinema refused to back higher taxes on private equity firm executives and hedge fund managers. The IRS budget would be inflated to strengthen its tax collections.

While the final costs of the bill are still being determined, overall it would spend more than $300 billion over 10 years to slow climate change, which analysts say would be the country’s biggest investment in this. effort, and billions more for health care. This would raise more than $700 billion in taxes and government drug cost savings, leaving about $300 billion for deficit reduction – a modest portion of projected 10-year deficits of several trillions of dollars. dollars.

Democrats are using special procedures that would allow them to pass the measure without having to achieve the 60-vote majority that legislation often needs in the Senate.

It is the parliamentarian’s job to decide whether parts of the legislation should be dropped for violating these rules, which include the requirement that the provisions are intended primarily to affect the federal budget, not to impose new policy.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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