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Democrats are moving forward with a climate, tax and health care bill

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Democrats are one step closer to getting a big part of President Biden's agenda over the finish line. Senate Democrats cleared a big hurdle last night when Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the last remaining holdout, says she'll support the Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation would address climate change, health care and tax and is set to be introduced on Saturday. And for more, we're joined by NPR's Barbara Sprunt. Barbara, what brought Sinema onboard?

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Well, this is a major piece of legislation. It includes $300 billion in deficit reduction, $370 billion in energy and climate spending provisions. But it also included a carried interest tax provision, which would change the way private equity income is taxed. And it was reported that Sinema, a centrist Democrat from Arizona, had some concerns about that. She'd been radio silent all this week. But late last night, she, along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said there's an agreement to move forward. So this is a boost for the legislation's prospects.

MARTINEZ: But it's been a bumpy ride for Democrats. Walk us through those bumps.

SPRUNT: Yeah, that's right. This legislative deal is the result of negotiations that were kept under wraps between Schumer and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. The deal has been months in the making. Manchin had backtracked his support for a larger bill last month, saying he was hesitant to support more spending with inflation being so high. A lot of Democrats felt deflated by that. But then last week, this deal surfaced, and there was renewed optimism for getting it done. And Sinema's support is one more step in that direction.

MARTINEZ: So can Democrats now take a victory lap?

SPRUNT: Not quite. This will go through a wonky process called reconciliation. And the rules of that process are that each piece of the legislation has to produce a significant impact on federal revenues and spending for it to qualify. So the Senate parliamentarian has to go through everything and make sure it's all proper. This process would allow Democrats to pass this all on their own with a simple majority, which is good for them because no Republican will vote for this. But that means they need to get everyone in the family on board. And that's no small feat, even with Sinema's support. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats, made a dig at the bill the other day. He called it the so-called Inflation Reduction Act. He may have a point. A CBO analysis notes that the bill will have a negligible impact on inflation. Here's what he said.

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BERNIE SANDERS: This is an extremely modest piece of legislation that does virtually nothing to address the enormous crises that working families all across this country are facing today.

SPRUNT: Now, this isn't terribly surprising. This bill is a fraction of what he had been pushing for in a climate deal. But is he really going to vote against this and be the senator to tank the deal? It feels unlikely. But he has said that he may offer amendments to it, and that can sometimes throw things into chaos.

MARTINEZ: All right. So what are going to be the next steps?

SPRUNT: Well, Schumer has said the Senate will convene Saturday and take a procedural vote to begin debate on the bill. That debate could last up to 20 hours. After that comes what we call the vote-a-rama, which is when all the senators can introduce as many amendments as they want. They can even call for the entire bill, which is over 700 pages, to be read out loud. So it could last well into next week.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: I expect we'll have some late nights and extended debates here on the floor.

SPRUNT: So - but there's - you know, there's some pressure to get this bill done sooner rather than later. The Senate has had a successful couple of weeks. They've worked across party lines to pass gun safety legislation, a bill that would boost the production of semiconductors here in the U.S. They approved Sweden and Finland's bid for joining NATO. And although this is a Democrats-only bill, it would be a huge victory for the Biden administration and for Biden himself. It'll be something that Democrats want to capitalize on, campaign on, because the midterm elections may seem like they're far down the road, but they're only three months away.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, right around the corner.

NPR's Barbara Sprunt, thanks a lot.

SPRUNT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.