Manchin backs Biden’s climate bill. GOP Senators (including Wicker and Hyde-Smith) block bill to help sick veterans. Deal may free WNBA star and Marine detained in Russia.
Manchin suddenly decides to back Biden’s climate and tax bill
In an announcement that took much of Washington by surprise, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) have agreed a deal to pass a much slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better bill. What started out as a nearly $4 trillion package has now shrunk to about $739 billion.
Since the bill first arrived in the Senate, Manchin has been a major obstacle to its passage. In White House negotiations, Manchin demanded numerous changes, especially to climate policies in the bill that would impact Manchin’s own multi-million dollar holdings in the coal industry. After all that, Manchin promised to back the bill once holdouts in the House passed another $1 trillion infrastructure bill (from which Manchin stood to profit). But once the $1 trillion bill passed, Manchin reneged, leaving the entire Build Back Better agenda dead in the water for months. It’s not clear what’s behind Manchin’s sudden change of heart, but it’s a safe bet that he’s getting something out of it.
If the bill becomes law, it will be a major policy win for President Biden, and a much-needed one as the midterms approach.
Democrats hope to vote on this bill next week through the reconciliation process. Reconciliation bills require only a simple majority to pass, shielding this bill from a potential Republican filibuster. However, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has not yet said whether she supports the bill. In previous Build Back Better negotiations, Sinema has largely joined with Manchin in blocking passage and constantly moving goal posts for her support. Sinema has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate and conservative donors incentivizing her to block previous iterations of the bill.
What’s in the bill
- $370 billion for climate change programs and energy security over the next 10 years. The climate program would offer tax credits for solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles and tackle the impact of pollution on low-income communities. The overall goal is to lower US carbon emissions by about 40% by the year 2030.
- $65 billion to extend elements of the ACA through 2025.
- $300 billion in deficit reduction. This will be accomplished primarily through a minimum 15% tax rate on corporations. The bill’s sponsors say this tax alone will raise about $313 billion. Additionally, the bill expands IRS enforcement, changes tax rules for carried interest, and will allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.
What’s not in the bill
These items featured in previous incarnations of Build Back Better but are not currently part of this bill.
- Monthly expanded child tax credits
- Expanding Medicare coverage to vision and hearing care.
- Childcare or education spending.
Fury after GOP Senators block bill to help sick veterans
The announcement of the deal between Manchin and Schumer went public just hours after the Senate voted to pass a bill to spend billions boosting the domestic semi-conductor (microchip) industry. Republicans had vowed to block the semi-conductor bill as long as Democrats were still planning to pass a broader partisan bill on climate and taxes.
With the semi-conductor bill now passed, the Republicans lost their leverage, and Democrats decided to move ahead with their bill. Then, Senate Republicans chose a surprising target to bear the brunt of their anger over being hornswoggled: sick veterans.
The Senate recently passed a bill called the Honoring our Pact Act with overwhelming bipartisan support (84-14). The bill aimed to significantly expand health coverage for veterans sickened by toxic chemicals during their service. Most know the legislation as the “burn pits bill”. Veterans sickened by toxic burn pits near military bases abroad led the charge for its passage. The bill then went to the House for some minor tweaking, and returned to the Senate for a final vote that was considered all but assured.
However, 25 Republican Senators who previously voted to pass the bill suddenly decided to block the bill in a procedural vote. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) claims that Republicans wanted to revisit some of the mandatory spending contained in the bill.
Comedian and political commentator John Stewart called Cornyn’s justification “bullshit”. Stewart has been active in lobbying Congress and bringing public attention to veterans’ fight to pass the Honoring our Pact Act.
Call Hyde-Smith’s DC office: (202) 224-5054
Call Wicker’s DC office: (202) 224-6253
Possible deal to free WNBA star and Marine detained in Russia
US Sec. of State Antony Blinken says he will soon be speaking with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a possible deal to free WNBA star Britney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan. This will be the first time Blinken and Lavrov have spoken directly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The State Department considers both Griner and Whelan to be “wrongly detained” in Russia.
A deal to free the two Americans has been on the table for weeks, but this is the first sign of movement. Blinken neither confirmed nor denied reports that the deal involves a prisoner swap in exchange for Griner and Whelan’s freedom. The Kremlin has long been lobbying for the release of Viktor Bout, an arms dealer whose shadowy work has earned him the title “The Merchant of Death”. US authorities arrested Bout in 2008 over a conspiracy to sell weapons to Colombian rebels to kill Americans. He’s currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Who are Griner and Whelan?
Griner is a US Olympian and WNBA star who plays in Russia’s professional women’s basketball league during the WNBA off-season. Russian authorities detained Griner at an airport earlier this year for possession of vape cartridges containing hashish oil. Griner has pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana-derived substances. She testified in a Russian court recently that she uses the substances for pain management from her sports injuries.
Whelan is a former US Marine who was convicted of espionage charges in a secret trial in Russia. He’s been detained in Russia for more than three years. Previous US-Russia prisoner swap deals, including one that released fellow Marine Trevor Reed, have left Whelan out. Whelan’s family says they now have “a little bit of hope” following today’s announcement.
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