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Congress OKs Dems' Climate, Health Bill08/13 09:17

   A divided Congress gave final approval Friday to Democrats' flagship climate 
and health care bill, handing President Joe Biden a back-from-the-dead triumph 
on coveted priorities that the party hopes will bolster their prospects for 
keeping their House and Senate majorities in November's elections.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Congress gave final approval Friday to 
Democrats' flagship climate and health care bill, handing President Joe Biden a 
back-from-the-dead triumph on coveted priorities that the party hopes will 
bolster their prospects for keeping their House and Senate majorities in 
November's elections.

   The House used a party-line 220-207 vote to pass the legislation, prompting 
hugs among Democrats on the House floor and cheers by White House staff 
watching on television. "Today, the American people won. Special interests 
lost," tweeted the vacationing Biden, who was shown beaming in a White House 
photo as he watched the vote on TV from Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He said 
he would sign the legislation next week.

   The measure is but a shadow of the larger, more ambitious plan to 
supercharge environment and social programs that Biden and his party unveiled 
early last year. Even so, Democrats happily declared victory on top-tier goals 
like providing Congress' largest ever investment in curbing carbon emissions, 
reining in pharmaceutical costs and taxing large companies, hoping to show they 
can wring accomplishments from a routinely gridlocked Washington that often 
disillusions voters.

   "Today is a day of celebration, a day we take another giant step in our 
momentous agenda," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who minutes later 
announced the final vote as she presided over the chamber. She said the measure 
"meets the moment, ensuring that our families thrive and that our planet 
survives."

   Republicans solidly opposed the legislation, calling it a cornucopia of 
wasteful liberal daydreams that would raise taxes and families' living costs. 
They did the same Sunday but Senate Democrats banded together and used Vice 
President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote t o power the measure through that 
50-50 chamber.

   "Democrats, more than any other majority in history, are addicted to 
spending other people's money, regardless of what we as a country can afford," 
said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "I can almost see glee in 
their eyes."

   Biden's initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion proposal also envisioned free 
prekindergarten, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits and 
eased immigration restrictions. That crashed after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, 
D-W.Va., said it was too costly, using the leverage every Democrat has in the 
evenly-divided Senate.

   Still, the final legislation remained substantive. Its pillar is about $375 
billion over 10 years to encourage industry and consumers to shift from 
carbon-emitting to cleaner forms of energy. That includes $4 billion to cope 
with the West's catastrophic drought.

   Spending, tax credits and loans would bolster technology like solar panels, 
consumer efforts to improve home energy efficiency, emission-reducing equipment 
for coal- and gas-powered power plants and air pollution controls for farms, 
ports and low-income communities.

   Another $64 billion would help 13 million people pay premiums over the next 
three years for privately bought health insurance. Medicare would gain the 
power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for only 10 
drugs. Medicare beneficiaries' out-of-pocket prescription costs would be 
limited to $2,000 starting in 2025, and beginning next year would pay no more 
than $35 monthly for insulin, the costly diabetes drug.

   The bill would raise around $740 billion in revenue over the decade, over a 
third from government savings from lower drug prices. More would flow from 
higher taxes on some $1 billion corporations, levies on companies that 
repurchase their own stock and stronger IRS tax collections. About $300 billion 
would remain to defray budget deficits, a sliver of the period's projected $16 
trillion total.

   Against the backdrop of GOP attacks on the FBI for its court-empowered 
search of former President Donald Trump's Florida estate for sensitive 
documents, Republicans repeatedly savaged the bill's boost to the IRS budget. 
That's aimed at collecting an estimated $120 billion in unpaid taxes over the 
coming decade, and Republicans have misleadingly claimed that the IRS will hire 
87,000 agents to target average families.

   Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., said Democrats would also "weaponize" the IRS with 
agents, "many of whom will be trained in the use of deadly force, to go after 
any American citizen." Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Thursday on "Fox and 
Friends" if there would be an IRS "strike force that goes in with AK-15s 
already loaded, ready to shoot some small business person."

   Few IRS personnel are armed, and Democrats say the bill's $80 billion, 
10-year budget increase would be to replace waves of retirees, not just agents, 
and modernize equipment. They have said typical families and small businesses 
would not be targeted, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen directing the IRS 
this week to not "increase the share of small business or households below the 
$400,000 threshold" that would be audited.

   Republicans say the legislation's new business taxes will increase prices, 
worsening the nation's bout with its worst inflation since 1981. Though 
Democrats have labeled the measure the Inflation Reduction Act, nonpartisan 
analysts say it will have a barely perceptible impact on prices.

   The GOP also says the bill would raise taxes on lower- and middle-income 
families. An analysis by Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, 
which didn't include the bill's tax breaks for health care and energy, 
estimated that the corporate tax boosts would marginally affect those taxpayers 
but indirectly, partly due to lower stock prices and wages.

   "House Democrats ensured voters will fire them this fall," said spokeswoman 
Torunn Sinclair of the House GOP campaign committee. In an email, she listed 
dozens of Democrats in competitive reelections who will face Republican attacks 
for raising taxes and empowering the IRS "to target their constituents."

   Democratic-leaning interest groups had their own warnings. "We'll ensure 
that every Republican who voted against this bill is held accountable for 
prioritizing polluters and corporate special interests over the health and well 
being of their constituents," said Tiernan Sittenfeld, a top official of the 
League of Conservation Voters.

   The bill caps three months in which Congress has approved legislation on 
veterans' benefits, the semiconductor industry, gun checks for young buyers and 
Ukraine's invasion by Russia and adding Sweden and Finland to NATO. All passed 
with bipartisan support, suggesting Republicans also want to display their 
productive side.

   It's unclear whether voters will reward Democrats for the legislation after 
months of painfully high inflation dominating voters' attention, Biden's 
dangerously low popularity ratings and a steady history of midterm elections 
that batter the party holding the White House.

   Biden called his $3.5 trillion plan Build Back Better. Besides social and 
environment initiatives, it proposed rolling back Trump-era tax breaks for the 
rich and corporations and $555 billion for climate efforts, well above the 
money in Friday's legislation.

   With Manchin opposing those amounts, it was sliced to a roughly $2 trillion 
measure that Democrats moved through the House in November. He unexpectedly 
sank that bill too, earning scorn from exasperated fellow Democrats from 
Capitol Hill and the White House.

   Last gasp talks between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, 
D-N.Y., seemed fruitless until the two unexpectedly announced agreement last 
month on the new package.

   Manchin won concessions for the fossil fuel industries he champions, 
including procedures for more oil drilling on federal lands. So did Centrist 
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who ended up eliminating planned higher taxes on 
hedge fund managers and helping win the drought funds.

 
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