Opinion Democrats can’t waste this chance to pass an economic package
Build Back Better, President Biden’s plan for new federal spending and taxes, was big, bold and probably bound to run into the trouble securing a Senate majority that eventually doomed it. The deal Democrats are negotiating today, in contrast, is more modest. Perhaps as a consequence, it also has a better chance to succeed.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and centrist holdout Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) have for the past few months been holding talks to put together an economic package that can pass through the reconciliation process, which would require the support only of the Senate’s 50 Democratic-voting members. This week marks a major milestone: Legislative text of a proposal to lower prescription drug costs has made its way to the Senate’s parliamentarian, who will determine whether the measure qualifies to pass via reconciliation — and bypass a Republican filibuster. The rest of the hoped-for package, expected to include health-care, climate and tax reform measures, remains in limbo.
The decision to move forward with what’s already agreed on is sensible: Instead of introducing myriad ambitious ideas all at once and then searching for the votes, Democrats are finding the votes first — and introducing afterward the ideas they know can pass. The drug pricing bill looks similar to a variation last year that received the approval of another key Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), which bodes well for its advancement. The government would be empowered to negotiate the price of select high-cost drugs on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries; the biggest change is that future administrations would be bound by the obligation to haggle aggressively. The plan would cappatients' drug costs at $2,000 each year, penalize companies whose prices outpace inflation, and expand aid toward premiums and co-pays for low-income consumers.
What could come next is even more encouraging. Reportedly, an overarching reconciliation agreement between Mr. Schumer and Mr. Manchin would raise approximately $1 trillion in revenue, with $500 billion or so put toward spendingand $500 billion toward bringing down the federal budget deficit. The promised provisions are both appropriately ambitious and responsible: Incentives to reduce carbon emissions are essential; the continuation of the pandemic relief program lowering health insurance premiums for Affordable Care Act plans is called for; and new minimum taxes on corporate book income and foreign earnings by multinational corporations, as well as increases on the very high personal income, are a wise way to pay.
The window for action is closing as Congress prepares to take its long summer break, and Democrats finally may have the momentum they need to push this deal through. They can’t afford to stop moving now. The pared-back package isn’t Build Back Better, but it would help the country do just that."