WASHINGTON — Congress is returning to Washington this week for what is expected to be a consequential few weeks of negotiations that could impact everything from the price Americans pay for prescription drugs to the cost of electric cars.
Democrats came to Washington in January of 2021 with wide-ranging ambitions. There were plans for changes to community college, child care and prescription drugs, to name a few.
While infrastructure reform passed, progressives, for the most part, have been unable to get through the Senate many of their big ideas.
Last year, Democrats wanted to pass the massive Build Back Better policy bill. The legislation failed, however, because Democrats in the Senate weren't unanimously supporting the idea. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was concerned about too much spending and inflation.
However, it appears as though Democratic leadership has convinced Manchin to support something, and as a result, they will try to pass significant policy changes again.
The plan for the moment is to advance a scaled-down version of Build Back Better, perhaps sometime this month.
Return of reconciliation
Get ready to hear more about a word known as "reconciliation" in the coming days. Under standard Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to defeat the filibuster and pass legislation. However, the reconciliation process allows for some financial bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority vote. Democrats have that if they all stick together in the Senate because the vice president breaks any ties.
Very few details on the proposed legislation have been released. Still, there is early agreement among Democrats to close tax loopholes for those making more than $400,000 by forcing new taxes on incomes from certain "pass-through" businesses. According to reports, the change would make Medicare solvent until at least 2031.
The bill also includes, for the moment, prescription drug reform. That policy proposal might limit how much a drug's price can be increased from year to year. It could also lower seniors' prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for the first time.
The legislation could include other ideas, too, like electric car tax credits, as long as every Democrat in the Senate supports it and is paid for. New child tax credits or significant changes to child care policy are not expected to be included.
President Joe Biden and congressional leaders are facing one major hurdle: The election is quickly approaching.
The ticking clock means Democrats won't have much time to negotiate and pass this. August recess and the campaign trail are looming. Not to mention, Democrats are also trying this month to pass a bipartisan bill meant to boost computer chip manufacturing in the United States. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who leads Republicans in the Senate, has said he wouldn't support that computer chip legislation anymore if Democrats go ahead with their reconciliation bill.