Dems consider changes to economic bill, weekend votes ahead

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Congress Budget (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Congress Budget (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Democrats on Thursday considered reshaping proposed taxes on the wealthy and huge corporations, and possibly adding billions for the West's historic drought, as lawmakers aimed for initial votes Saturday on the party's economic legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced his timetable Thursday as party leaders worked behind the scenes in hopes of winning the unanimity they will need to succeed.

The election-year bill, housing President Joe Biden's and congressional Democrats' top priorities, would provide hundreds of billions in spending and tax credits to spur clean energy, reinforce fossil fuels and renew government support for people buying private health insurance. It would raise revenue with tax boosts, beefed up IRS tax collections and curbs on drug prices, which would save money for the government and patients.

“We prioritize the middle class and working families, instead of those at the very top. God bless them, they’re doing fine,” Schumer said.

Democrats need to nail down support from all their lawmakers to prevail in the 50-50 Senate and avoid a glaring self-inflicted defeat, similar to one they suffered last November on a far larger version of the package. Republicans are on track to oppose the legislation as one, saying its tax boosts and spending would worsen inflation and damage the economy.

“What do Democrats want to do with all the money they want to drain out of Americans’ pockets in the midst of a recession?” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “They want to lavish hundreds of billions of dollars on an issue that exactly 3% of the country says is our biggest problem: far-left environmental and climate spending."

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., a mercurial centrist, has not made her stance clear and is considered her party's sole potential holdout.

She's among a group of Western senators seeking to add around $5 billion to the legislation — billed as Congress' biggest-ever climate change measure — to help their states cope with epic drought and wildfires. The effort was described by a Democrat familiar with the talks who would speak only on condition of anonymity.

Sinema has also expressed interest in reshaping the measure's 15% minimum tax on some companies with income exceeding $1 billion, said another Democrat who was not authorized to describe the senator's view publicly. They provided no detail. The proposed tax would raise an estimated $313 billion over a decade, the legislation's largest revenue raiser.

In defense of that proposal, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., released figures showing that between 100 to 125 corporations that reported income averaging $8.9 billion paid effective tax rates averaging 1.1%. The numbers were compiled by Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

Sinema has been a critic of another proposal to raise taxes on executives of hedge funds and other private equity firms. It would raise $13 billion, a small portion of the bill, and is a favorite of progressives and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a conservative Democrat who helped write the overall legislation with Schumer.

The Senate won't be in session Friday as Democrats continue their talks. That pause will also provide time for the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, to decide if any of the bill's provisions violate the chamber’s rules and should be removed.

Republicans want to kill as much of the bill as possible, either with MacDonough's rulings or with nonstop votes expected to last well into Sunday or beyond.

Even if GOP amendments are defeated, they will consider it mission accomplished if they force Democrats to take risky, campaign season votes on touchy issues like taxes, inflation and immigration.

Vice President Kamala Harris can vote to break a 50-50 tie and approve the bill.

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