March 29, 2023

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US Senate approves $700 billion economic package

Vice President Kamala Harris cast her vote for the bill, allowing it to pass in the Senate

The US Senate has approved a massive $700 billion economic package that includes key legislation on health care, taxes and climate change.

The bill seeks to lower the cost of some drugs, increase corporate taxes, and reduce carbon emissions.

Passing the bill, a major part of President Joe Biden’s agenda, is a major boost to President Joe Biden ahead of the midterm elections.

But it is a significantly reduced version of the $3.5 trillion package initially proposed by his administration.

The bill, the product of 18 months of intense negotiations, passed with 51 senators in favour, while the 50 Republicans opposed it on Sunday. Vice President Kamala Harris cast her vote, allowing the bill to pass.

Two Democratic senators had previously voted against the bill due to concerns about its cost, like Republicans.

It will now be sent to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and is expected to be voted on Friday, before the president signs it into law.

The law includes legislation that would allow the government to negotiate lower prices for medicines provided under the Medicare Medicaid program for those over 65 years of age.

This is expected to save hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The package also includes a minimum tax of 15% on most companies that generate more than $1 billion in profits annually. This measure, and has been the subject of contention during negotiations in Congress, is opposed by business groups who see it as limiting investment.

The bill also includes $369 billion for climate protection, the largest climate investment in US history.

Some families can get up to $7,500 in tax credits to buy an electric car, or $4,000 for a used car. Billions will also be spent trying to speed up the production of clean technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines.

And $60 billion will be given to the communities that have suffered the most from fossil fuel pollution.

The bill’s authors say it will cut the country’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

The climate protection program comes as the United States faces a wave of severely volatile weather, including the latest heat wave as well as deadly floods in Kentucky that have left dozens dead.

Biden will visit flood-affected areas of the state on Monday.

Many factors contribute to flooding, but the warming of the atmosphere caused by climate change makes heavy rainfall more likely.

The world has already warmed by about 1.1°C since the start of the industrial age, and temperatures will continue to rise unless governments around the world make sharp cuts in emissions

After more than a year of hard work, the Senate is making history,” Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “For Americans who have lost faith that Congress can do big things, this bill is for you.”

Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, reportedly cried with tears of joy as he left the hall. “Now I can look my child in the eyes and say we’re really doing something about the climate,” he said, according to the New York Times.

Some Republicans said they would try to block progress on the bill.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said it was far from reality because it wouldn’t help drive down prices for workers or keep criminals in jail “things that workers in this country care about.”

On Saturday, Congress debated a revised version of the bill, after agreeing concessions on the original, more ambitious plan with two Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Senator Kirsten Senema of Arizona.

Manchin feared that the original bill would exacerbate inflation.

President Biden, who has called the bill “historic,” has pledged to bring the United States back on the international stage on climate action. In April last year, he pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030.

Last month, he announced $2.2 billion to help build infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and natural disasters.

Justin Rowlatt, the BBC’s climate editor, says: “This is not the huge climate bill that Joe Biden promised when he became president, but if passed, it would be the most ambitious action the United States has taken to try to stop global warming.” .

He adds that while President Biden’s climate envoy, Senator John Kerry, has made efforts to persuade other countries to raise their ambitions on climate change, one Democratic senator said you “can’t preach moderation from a bar stool.”

“What he means is that you can’t ask India or China or Brazil to cut emissions unless you do it yourself,” Rowlatt says.

“This is a very big step though, and things are particularly tense with China at the moment,” he explains. “Beijing said it had suspended cooperation on climate change after Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan.”

“But as the United States leads by example, the hope is to revitalize international efforts to tackle global warming,” concludes Rowlatt.