Voting as a united bloc and with the decisive vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris, Democrats approved the $430 billion spending plan, which will go to the House of Representatives next week, where it is expected to pass before it passes through. the law is signed by Biden.
The plan, drafted in sensitive conversations with members on the right of his Democratic Party, would include the largest US investment ever in climate: $370 billion, aimed at a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
That would give Biden a clear victory on one of his key agenda items and somehow help restore US leadership in meeting the global climate challenge.
Biden applauded the bill’s approval, emphasized the work that went into it — and acknowledged that not everyone is happy with the end result.
“A lot of compromises were needed. Doing important things almost always does. The House must pass this as soon as possible and I look forward to signing it into law,” the president said in a statement.
The bill would give ordinary Americans a tax break of up to $7,500 when they buy an electric car, plus a 30 percent discount when they install solar panels on their roofs.
It would also raise millions to help protect and conserve forests — which have been increasingly devastated in recent years by wildfires during record heat waves that scientists believe are linked to global warming.
Billions of dollars in tax credits would also go to some of the country’s most polluting industries to aid their transition to greener methods — a move that has been vehemently opposed by some liberal Democrats, who after months have accepted it as the least bad alternative of frustration.
Biden, who took office with promises of sweeping reforms, has seen his hopes shattered, then revived, and then sank again.
Democrats’ narrow lead in the Senate has virtually vetoed moderates like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who had previously used that power to block Biden’s much more elaborate Build Back Better plan.
But in late July, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer managed to compromise with the West Virginian, whose economy relies heavily on mining.
And on Saturday, the senators finally opened their debate on the text.
Late in the day, senators began a marathon process known as a “vote-a-rama,” where members can propose dozens of amendments and ask about each amendment.
That enabled both Republicans, who see Biden’s plan as too expensive, and liberal Democrats, who say it doesn’t go far enough, to voice their opposition.
Influential progressive Senator Bernie Sanders used that platform all evening to propose several amendments aimed at strengthening the social shelves in the legislation, which had been toned down considerably during the months of negotiations.
The bill would bring in $64 billion for health care initiatives and cut some drug costs — which can be 10 times more expensive in the United States than in some other rich countries.
But progressive Democrats long ago had to give up their ambitions for free preschool and community colleges and comprehensive health care for the elderly.
“Millions of seniors will continue to have rotten teeth and lack the teeth, hearing aids or glasses they deserve,” Sanders said from the Senate floor. “This bill, as currently written, does nothing to address it.”
But fellow Democrats, eager to pass the legislation before the November midterms, when control of Congress at stake, have rejected any change to the text.
To help offset the plan’s massive spending, it would cut the U.S. deficit through a new 15 percent minimum tax on companies with profits of $1 billion or more — a measure targeting some who now pay much less.
By some estimates, that measure could bring the government more than $258 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years.