Senate Democrats form pact to protect climate, tax bill from changes

A group of Senate Democrats is planning to vote down all proposed amendments to their ambitious climate, taxes and health care bill during Saturday’s marathon session, hoping to preserve the bill’s chances of passing.

Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) told The Hill on Saturday that “a large number” of Democrats have signed on to the strategy of defeating all amendments at Saturday’s vote-a-rama.

The purpose of the plan, according to Booker, is to prevent any changes that could tank the legislation.

“We don’t want to compromise the final bill passage,” the New Jersey Democrat said, adding “We should stick together.”

“So there’s a large number of us and a growing number of us that are gonna do everything we can to defend the most historic bill in American history on climate change, the most significant bill in my lifetime for prescription drug costs and an incredible bill that’s gonna help more overall energy and health care costs for Americans,” he continued.

The Senate will hold a vote-a-rama on an open-ended series of amendments before taking a final vote on the 755-page bill. It’s part of the chamber’s budget reconciliation package that allows the majority party to pass major legislation with only 51 votes, thereby circumventing a filibuster.

Democrats are using this special process to pass their climate, tax and health care package, titled the Inflation Reduction Act. It contains a number of provisions central to President Biden’s domestic agenda.

Senators are allowed to offer as many amendments as they want during the vote-a-rama.

Republicans see it as a chance to put forward last-minute amendments and force their colleagues to take tough votes. They are expected to propose hundreds of changes although fewer than 50 are expected to get votes on the floor.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says he plans to offer four amendments, including proposals to expand Medicare and to give the government significantly more power to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. He is frustrated that the prescription drug language in the budget bill will cover only 20 drugs and won’t begin to go into effect until 2026.

Those amendments will put Democratic colleagues into a tough position. It will force them to choose between proposals that are popular with their base and Schumer’s strategy of keeping the compromise he struck with Sens. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) intact. Any changes to the bill could imperil final passage, Schumer and other Democrats worry.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) is urging against proposing amendments to the bill, according to a Democratic senator who spoke to The Hill on condition of anonymity.

Booker said he is aware of some colleagues “trying to talk” to Sanders to warn him that nothing will be gained from forcing votes on his amendments.

“That could create this kind of dem-on-dem violence where we are not only imperiling the bill but also putting other members in tough positions, that if they stick with the team that wants to try to push all amendments away that could put them into a position where somehow they’re attacked by people that think that they were doing something that was not, something that was counter to that,” he said.

The New Jersey Democrat noted that even though he and his colleagues may agree with the measures put forward, they plan to oppose them to protect the bill’s chances of passing.

“There will be a lot of things that come up tonight that many of us passionately agree on. I heard somebody might file a bill on the child tax credit. well me [Sens. Sherrod Brown (R-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.], we’ve been leading that for years. And Brown, Bennett and I are gonna have to vote against something we believe in,” he said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who vowed to “evaluate amendments individually,” said he is “likely to be” against all revisions — even if he agrees with the substance of the change.

“I am deeply and strongly inclined to preserve this bill as it is because it is so consequential and we need, at the end of the day, to maintain unity,” he told The Hill.

“So as much as I may sympathize with a lot of the goals of amendments and would vote for those measures independently of this bill, I think this measure is so immensely consequential that it should be preserved,” he added.

Asked about Sanders’ amendments, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he plans to vote against all changes brought to the floor, adding “I’m trying to keep this bill clean and get it out of here. It’s too important.”

Pressed on if there’s an agreement among Democrats to stay unified on amendments, the No. 2 Senate Democrat said “There are some who have some ideas we’re trying to discourage.”

Asked about conversations between Schumer and Sanders, a Democratic senator told The Hill “I’d be surprised if they weren’t taking place.”

Alex Bolton contributed.

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