Senate parliamentarian gives green light to most of Democrats’ drug pricing plan

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(WASHINGTON) — The Senate parliamentarian has signed off on key climate and health care provisions in the Democrats’ major spending bill.

The rulings from Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s non-partisan rule keeper, come before an expected vote Saturday afternoon to begin debate on the $739 billion climate, health care and tax package titled the “Inflation Reduction Act.”

Democrats are using a fast-track process known as reconciliation to pass the bill through a simple majority vote. The Senate parliamentarian is responsible for issuing opinions on whether provisions meet conditions of the budget reconciliation rules.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the Senate Finance Committee’s clean energy tax package — a major portion of the bill — adhered to the chamber rules.

The Inflation Reduction Act sets out $369 billion for climate, much of which would go toward tax credits to prop up clean energy technologies. Consumer tax credits are included for Americans to make “home energy efficiency improvements” and for those who purchase electric vehicles.

It also provides a tax credit to clean energy developers who pay their workers the prevailing wage.

“I’m especially pleased that our prevailing wage provisions were approved,” Wyden said in a statement. “These provisions guarantee wage rates for clean energy projects. Clean energy jobs will be good-paying jobs.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also announced Saturday that the parliamentarian signed off on most of the drug pricing provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act except for one prescription cost-reducing program Democrats wanted to include.

“Democrats have received extremely good news: for the first time, Medicare will finally be allowed to negotiate prescription drug prices, seniors will have free vaccines and their costs capped, and much more. This is a major victory for the American people,” Schumer said in a statement.

The legislation will allow the federal health secretary to directly negotiate the prices of certain expensive drugs for Medicare starting in 2026. It would also cap out-of-pocket costs for those who use Medicare drug plans at $2,000.

Democrats wanted to penalize drug companies for raising prices of some prescription drugs faster than inflation, in an effort to keep costs down. But, according to a source familiar, the parliamentarian ruled that these penalties cannot be applied on individuals with private health insurance. They’ll stay in affect for Medicare.

“While there was one unfortunate ruling in that the inflation rebate is more limited in scope, the overall program remains intact and we are one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions of Americans,” Schumer said.

Schumer said earlier this week that the first vote on the spending bill is expected Saturday afternoon.

The motion to proceed, if passed, would begin debate on the bill and give lawmakers the opportunity to vote on amendments in what’s been dubbed “vote-a-rama.”

Republicans have pledged to bring up amendments on issues related to immigration, crime and energy. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters on Friday that the voting session will be “hell.”

President Joe Biden on Friday praised the movement on the bill, stating Democrats were “on the cusp” of passing what he said was the “most important step” to combating inflation.

“In short, this bill is a game changer for working families and our economy,” he said. “I look forward to the Senate taking up this legislation and passing it as soon as possible.”

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