During the Senate’s 16-hour amendment marathon for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) over the weekend, nearly all senators united against several amendments that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced to expand the bill, which is a mixed bag for the climate crisis and prescription drug prices.
Through Saturday and Sunday, lawmakers proposed dozens of amendments to the bill during the so-called vote-a-rama that precedes a vote on a budget reconciliation bill; following the vote-a-rama, the IRA passed by a party line vote of 51 to 50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. Many of the amendments were introduced by Republicans on unrelated issues like reinstating Title 42, a racist and cruel anti-immigration policy.
But Sanders brought several proposals to consideration before the Senate that would have expanded the U.S.’s social safety net and ensured that the bill — which has been advertised by Democrats as a groundbreaking climate proposal — falls much more in line with what leftists and climate advocates have called for to combat economic and climate crises facing the public.
Nearly all of the amendments were proposals that had been considered during last year’s negotiations on the Build Back Back Better Act (BBBA) — and all of them got near-unanimous disapproval from the Senate.
One amendment would have provided $30 billion for climate spending, including for the formation of a Civilian Climate Corps. Democrats had pushed for the inclusion of a Civilian Climate Corps in last year’s bill, saying that such a jobs program could boost conservation and resilience efforts across the U.S. That amendment failed 98 to 1, with Sanders casting the lone “yes” vote.
Another amendment would have removed some of the giveaways for the fossil fuel industry that were included in the bill to woo coal millionaire Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). Sanders proposed removing a tax credit for carbon capture — which some climate advocates say is a scheme to give fossil fuel facilities funding for greenwashing — and nixing a royalties cap on offshore oil and gas leasing. That amendment was rejected 99 to Sanders’s 1.
Senators also denied Sanders’s attempts to add social spending provisions to the bill. Proposals to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing and to allow Medicare to halve prescription drug prices by accessing the same rates offered to the Department of Veterans Affairs were defeated 97 to 3 and 99 to 1, respectively. The Vermont progressive’s proposal to implement the expanded child tax credit, which expired in December and kept millions of children from experiencing poverty, was rejected 97 to 1.
Democrats argued that their “no” votes were justified in order to keep the vote on the IRA straightforward, claiming that they feared adding any of the amendments to the bill would have threatened its passage. But Sanders argued that there was no harm in allowing 48 Democrats to vote for his amendments if his amendments wouldn’t garner enough support to be added to the bill anyway.
Indeed, Sanders has argued several times over the past year that the Senate should vote on proposals that are overwhelmingly popular with the public, like expanding Medicare; this would ensure that senators’ objections are on the record instead of only known to those involved in high-up, secret negotiations, Sanders said. It’s also a messaging opportunity for Democrats, who would be able to point directly to lawmakers who oppose policies that would benefit tens of millions of Americans.
Following the vote, Sanders had limited praise for the bill but continued to criticize it as insufficient, as he has for the past week. While the bill is “a step forward,” he said, “this legislation goes nowhere near far enough for working families.”