Dems hurtle toward chaotic weekend with their agenda on the line

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As the Senate heads toward a rare Friday session, rank-and-file Democrats say they feel good about the prospects for their signature climate, tax and health care proposal. Just don’t ask for specifics.

Democrats are heading into the weekend with a murky timeline for passing their bill, multiple outstanding issues and one very important undecided senator. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not yet announced when the Senate will vote to proceed to the party-line measure, and on Thursday, he predicted “some late nights and extended debates” as he vowed to pass the legislation in the “coming days.”

There’s a lot of uncertainty to button up in those days. Democrats and Republicans will continue arguing into Friday about what can be included in the bill. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is still mum on the deal negotiated by Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as she seeks some changes to it. And there’s still an unlimited amendment “vote-a-rama” to get through.

“I literally have no specific knowledge about tonight, tomorrow, tomorrow night, Saturday, when are we going to start, how many votes, how many amendments,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). The vote-a-rama, he added, is “going to start later than we imagine, it’s going to run longer than we would hope and it’s going to be more painful getting out of here than any of us have any reason to expect.

It’s a microcosm of the perpetual uncertainty hanging over the longest-running 50-50 Senate in history: Democrats need every single one of their side’s votes as the possibility of Covid-related absences hangs over the whip count, Republicans actually have some limited leverage, and the Senate’s nonpartisan rules referee maintains significant sway over their agenda.

The referee, formally known as the parliamentarian, will continue hearing arguments about whether the bill meets the chamber’s stringent rules for evading a filibuster. A ruling on prescription drugs could come as early as Friday, with the tax provisions coming after.

Democrats are seeking to make sure their legislation can enjoy the filibuster protections of the budget before making any move on the floor, according to a person familiar with the process. Many senators and aides see Saturday as a likely target date for the bill’s forward movement.

“Until they have all the [budget] scores and Byrd scrubs done, I assume they tee it up, just a guess, tomorrow or maybe early Saturday,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “If they get it teed up tomorrow, we can probably start vote-a-rama Saturday.”

The legislation would spend $369 billion on energy and climate change, extend Obamacare subsidies through 2024, direct Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs and send an estimated $300 billion to deficit reduction. It would be funded, in part, by a 15 percent corporate minimum tax on big companies and increased IRS enforcement.

The parliamentarian still has to review the Democrats’ updated prescription drug language as well as the package’s tax provisions, including electric vehicle tax credits. Those arguments will take place on Friday, according to a Democratic aide. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) legislation to reduce the cost of insulin is being included in the prescription drug provision.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee met with the Senate’s rules arbiter on Wednesday, in part to review a proposed fee for oil and gas companies that exceed a certain level of methane emissions, according to a second Democratic aide. The bill also provides subsidies to help companies pay for technologies to prevent methane emissions.

And then there’s the changes Sinema wants, including nixing a provision that would narrow the carried interest loophole for some investment income, which would bring in $14 billion in revenues, and adding roughly $5 billion in drought resiliency. Republicans are hopeful Sinema seeks further changes to the 15 percent corporate minimum tax on large corporations, which she helped negotiate last year, although that is a major part of the bill’s revenue and may prove tough to change on a tight timeline.

Asked if he is conjuring any changes to the painstakingly crafted corporate minimum tax, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said senators want the parliamentarian to review the tax legislation as written before making any subsequent changes. Sinema specifically has said she wants the parliamentarian review to occur before she weighs in on the bill.

“What we’ve been told is there’s an interest in waiting for the parliamentarian’s judgment, so that’s where we are,” Wyden said.

Between Sinema and the parliamentarian, Democrats expect some tweaks to their long-awaited bill, but don’t see major changes forthcoming — for now. As Coons put it: “Significantly no, will it change? Yes … Sinema will of course have some changes that she requests that reflect her priorities in her state.” Coons said he’s had three discussions with her so far about the bill.

“I’m not in Sinema’s head and I don’t know how those discussions are going,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “But it’s going to be fundamentally what it is. It’s going to address climate in a significant way, it’s going to affect drug prices. It’s going to close some tax loopholes. I hope a lot of them.”

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