Senate Democrats head toward pivotal vote with climate agenda intact

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Democrats’ health care, tax and climate bill is heading for a key procedural vote on Saturday with energy provisions like an electric vehicle tax credit intact — but no answers yet on whether drug pricing reforms can stay in the package.

The Senate parliamentarian — the upper chamber’s nonpartisan rules referee — has not said whether the prescription drug provisions meet strict budget rules allowing Democrats to pass their signature spending package without the threat of a GOP filibuster. The Senate is set to convene at noon on Saturday, with a pivotal vote to move forward on the bill expected later in the afternoon.

An unfavorable ruling on Democrats’ drug pricing plan could set off a scramble, prompting major revisions while the package hurtles toward the Senate floor. Democrats did receive some good news early Saturday morning, however: Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced that his panel’s energy provisions, which include the electric vehicle tax credits and a bonus tax credit to encourage clean energy developers to pay the prevailing wage, cleared Senate budget rules.

Some budget experts had surmised that certain conditions placed on the electric vehicle tax credits, including restrictions on where car battery materials must be sourced, ran afoul of the budget rules guiding the process that Democrats are using to pass their bill with a simple majority and evade a filibuster.

Under the current proposal, a car is only eligible for full credit if the batteries were made with materials from the U.S. or countries that have trade agreements with the U.S. — a requirement that some experts argue will make it very difficult to obtain the tax credit.

But those provisions can apparently remain in the package — a decision likely to please Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who wanted the restrictions in order to curb the electric vehicle industry’s reliance on China.

“The Finance Committee’s clean energy tax package adheres to Senate rules, and important provisions to ensure our clean energy future is built in America have been approved by the parliamentarian,” Wyden said in a statement. “I’m especially pleased that our prevailing wage provisions were approved. These provisions guarantee wage rates for clean energy projects. Clean energy jobs will be good-paying jobs.”

Saturday’s procedural hurdle, once cleared by Democrats, will trigger up to 20 hours of debate evely divided by both Democrats and Republicans. But both sides aren’t expected to use their full time.

Rather, senators are likely eager to get started with a marathon amendment process known as vote-a-rama, in which the GOP will mount a series of politically tricky votes for Democrats in the hopes of amending the party-line package more than a year in the making. The Senate must endure the amendment marathon before Democrats can finally approve it.

Democrats are waiting to see whether they can include provisions that allow Medicare to negotiate the price of certain high-cost drugs and whether they can penalize drug companies for raising prices on individuals with private health insurance faster than inflation.

Republicans have argued that the savings yielded by the mandate involving the private insurance market, in particular, could be considered a budget side effect of the policy rather than its main purpose, which would break Senate budget rules.

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