Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday announced that the Senate will reconvene on Saturday and plan to take the first procedural vote to proceed to the Democrats’ climate and health care bill.
Schumer’s announcement comes as negotiators try to lock in the votes of all 50 members of the Democratic caucus — most notably Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who has privately expressed concerns about taxes attached to the package and is seeking to add billions in funds for her to fight a drought in the Southwest.
A simple majority is required for Saturday’s motion to proceed vote. After that vote, there would be up to 20 hours of debate. Following the debate time, there would be a process colloquially referred to on Capitol Hill as “vote-a-rama,” which is the marathon series of amendment votes with no time limit.
Democrats are trying to wrap up negotiations and pass their economic passage before leaving town for a month-long August recess. The bill still needs to be approved by the Senate parliamentarian in order to advance under the rules surrounding reconciliation, which would allow the legislation to be passed by a simple majority.
It’s unclear when the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, will announce her decision on the package. A Democratic aide told CNN that the Senate Finance Committee’s energy provisions — most notably the clean energy credits — are scheduled to go in front of the Senate parliamentarian on Friday.
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CNN reported earlier Thursday that Sinema is seeking to add $5 billion to help the Southwest cope with its multi-year drought to the package as she mulls whether to support the deal.
Sinema has also privately expressed concerns about the impact that the 15% corporate minimum tax will have on manufacturers including in her state, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
At issue are changes proposed by Democrats on bonus depreciation that the GOP enacted in the 2017 tax law, which allows companies to deduct 100% of the cost of an asset the year it is placed in service. The new legislation proposes to phase that down starting next year. Manufacturers, in particular, have been deeply concerned about how that change will impact their bottom lines — and CNN reported that was a key issue that came up in a private call Sinema had earlier this week with business groups.
Her office declined to comment.
It’s unclear how Democrats will make changes to mollify Sinema, since removing that provision would cost about $84 billion, Democratic sources say. Sinema has also been concerned about the proposed tax on carried interest, which would impact private equity and hedge fund managers, which would raise about $14 billion.
The development underscores the tricky situation Democrats are in for the next several days: Manchin wants to make sure it maintains $300 billion in deficit savings. Changing the revenue portion of the bill would impact deficit savings.
Sinema has not said if she would vote to proceed to the legislation on Saturday afternoon.
If all 50 Senate Democrats vote to advance the measure, the soonest the bill could get a final vote is early next week.
Democrats have yet to secure the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who is reportedly pushing to make changes, including eliminating a provision that would tighten a tax loophole associated with hedge fund managers and private equity executives.
Sinema declined to speak to reporters Thursday. She was spotted deep in conversation on the Senate floor with Sen. Joe Manchin (.), who largely wrote the bill in secret negotiations with Schumer.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also said he’s disappointed by the prescription drug provision, but has stopped short of saying he’d vote no. “I want to see it improved,” he told reporters Thursday.
Another obstacle is the Senate parliamentarian ― a behind-the-scenes Senate official who decides whether the bill’s various provisions are allowed under the Senate’s arcane “budget reconciliation” process. Reconciliation allows Democrats to pass their bill with a simple majority, meaning that if all 50 Democrats agree, they don’t need a single Republican vote.
Policies deemed “extraneous” by the parliamentarian under reconciliation rules have to be thrown out. The parliamentarian forced Democrats to ditch a federal minimum wage increase as part of a reconciliation bill last year.
GOP senators have lodged objections to just about every provision in the bill with the parliamentarian in hopes of killing or substantially weakening its structure. [Bad faith.] Democrats are still waiting to hear on the fate of their prescription drug proposal as well as several revenue provisions.
Wyden, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he’s optimistic Democrats will emerge from the reconciliation “gauntlet” with most of their bill intact. He praised Elizabeth MacDonough, who has served as parliamentarian since 2012, as a “straight shooter.”
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After the initial vote to proceed to the bill on Saturday, there will be up to 20 hours of debate, followed by a marathon session known as a “vote-a-rama,” where senators will vote on an unlimited number of amendments. That process typically lasts up to another 20 hours.
Republicans are hoping to convince Sinema and other moderates to join them in voting for some of their nonbinding amendments that are aimed at exposing Democratic divisions with an eye on the midterms.
Schumer on Thursday seemed to allow for the vote plan to slip, saying only, “We expect to vote on the motion to proceed to the reconciliation legislation on Saturday afternoon.”
Enjoy your Saturday morning, them settle in for an afternoon with C-Span.
If “Silent Sinema” tanks this deal on Saturday for her corporate donors, she can start packing her bags. She is done in the Democratic Party.