(Headline USA) With the Biden administration’s public approval underwater and outrage growing over failed leftist policies that have had severe consequences, including massive inflation, Democrats undertook the spectacle of pretending to negotiate over a radical budget bill that could put the nail in the coffin of US fiscal solvency.
Democrats remain hopeful of railroading President Joe Biden’s controversial ‘Build Back Better’ Act through the legislative process, despite unanimous GOP opposition and growing unease within their own ranks.
On Wednesday, three vulnerable Democrats in the House Energy and Commerce Committee dealt an ominous—albeit symbolic and superficial—blow to the huge social and environment package by derailing a plan to let Medicare negotiate the price it pays for prescription drugs.
The vote to drop the proposal from Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending plan was quickly negated by the separate House Ways and Means Committee, which kept it alive by approving nearly identical drug-pricing language.
Even so, the provision’s rejection by one committee underscores the anxiety from battleground Democrats as Biden and party leaders try unilaterally pushing the entire package through a narrowly divided Congress.
The massive spending-spree, as it stands, not only is likely to send already intense inflation skyrocketing into the double digits, but also includes non-budgetary proposals, such as amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, that the Left hopes to slip in through the procedural gimmick of reconciliation, allowing the evenly split Senate to bypass its normal 60-vote threshold.
Red-state Democrats already panicked over a 2022 midterm reckoning are in the delicate position of needing to appear, on one hand, to advocate for fiscal responsibility while ultimately walking the party line under the stewardship of radicals like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Senate Budget Committee chairman.
Focusing their negotiations on less consequential measures, like prescription pricing for Medicare, may be a convenient canard for slipping in the more controversial measures that will drive up healthcare costs and reduce the quality of care regardless of what the government pays pharmaceutical companies.
Without Republican support, Democrats would be able to lose just three House votes and none in the 50-50 Senate to send the overall measure to Biden. That’s a precarious margin for what will be an enormous bill laced with numerous politically sensitive initiatives and spending and taxes.
The committees’ votes on pharmaceutical drugs came as Biden held face-to-face meetings with two vulnerable Democratic senators who’ve said the overall size of the $3.5 trillion proposal is too big.
The Energy and Commerce vote on the drug-pricing language was 29-29, with three moderate Democrats joining Republicans to oppose it: Reps. Scott Peters of California, Kathleen Rice of New York and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. Tie votes in Congress are usually insufficient to keep legislative provisions alive.
Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said lowering drug costs “will remain a cornerstone” of the party’s push for the overall bill, Biden’s top domestic priority.
Democrats are counting on the drug-pricing provisions to pay for a modest but significant part of their $3.5 trillion plan to bolster the safety net, address climate change and fund other programs.
The legislation would ostensibly authorize Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, using lower prices paid in other economically advanced countries as a yardstick. The savings produced would be used to expand Medicare coverage by adding dental, vision and hearing benefits.
The Energy and Commerce vote showed “real concerns with Speaker Pelosi’s extreme drug pricing plan,” Debra DeShong, top spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in a statement.
The industry says the drug negotiation plan would lead to price controls that reduce investment in research into promising new cures and treatments.
Sanders, a leading champion of the drug-pricing effort, said there was “no excuse” for Democrats to bow to “the extremely greedy and powerful” pharmaceutical industry. “The American people will not accept surrender,” he added.
Biden’s talks with Sinema and Manchin came as Democrats’ unrest over the overall bill’s cost has prompted a delicate hunt by party leaders for a topline figure that both moderate and far-left party-members can endorse.
“Today’s meeting was productive, and Kyrsten is continuing to work in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden as this legislation develops,” said Sinema spokesman John Labombard said.
Biden and Democratic leaders endorsed the $3.5 trillion figure, but in recent days have been more tentative about its ultimate size.
By Wednesday evening, all 13 House committees with pieces of the overall social and environment bill had completed their work, meeting a goal set by Democratic leaders who hope to rush it through while the country remains largely distracted by the coronavirus and Afghanistan.
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said in an interview Tuesday that his panel would be ready next week to combine all 13 sections and send the overall bill to the full House.
That might be delayed as lawmakers wait for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to produce a cost estimate for the legislation, Yarmuth said.
The Senate has yet to produce its own legislation, but leaders and other senators have been in talks with the House. Differences remain over taxes, health programs and other issues.
Democratic leaders would love to send completed legislation to Biden for his signature in the coming weeks, but many think resolving the policy and political complications the party faces will take much longer.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that they expect Congress to move the legislation before an international climate conference in November.
Manchin has been an especially outspoken critic of the overall bill. He’s called for a “pause” on the legislation, and said Sunday that he could not support $3.5 trillion, suggesting instead a topline figure in the $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion range.
Radical leftists, who initially demanded a $6 trillion plan, have said cutting the package to Manchin’s range would be unacceptable.
The House Ways and Means Committee approved its part of the overall bill 24-19, with Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy the only Democratic voting no. She cited “spending and tax provisions that give me pause” but expressed optimism about supporting a final version.
That panel’s revenue package includes $2.1 trillion in higher taxes. It also dubiously claims savings from its drug-pricing language, stronger IRS tax enforcement and an assertion that the legislation itself would spark economic growth.
Democrats ridiculed that claim when Republicans used it to claim past GOP tax cuts would be paid for, and their appropriation of it to argue for higher taxes and massive government spending seems no less ironic as the economy continues to sputter under the weight of massive pandemic-related debt and persistently high unemployment.
Democrats would raise the top income tax rate rise back to 39.6% on individuals earning more than $400,000, or $450,000 for coupleswhich would impact many small businesses.
There also would be a 3% surtax on wealthier Americans with adjusted gross income beyond $5 million a year, athough many of the ultra-rich would undoubtedly find loopholes to funnel their finances through tax-shelter organizations and phony philanthropy.
The proposal would lift the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on companies’ annual income over $5 million.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press