Politics

Bernie Sanders backs climate, health deal after trying in vain to amend it 

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in Montpelier on Sunday, July 31. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

In the end, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., voted yes. 

For a week, as Senate Democrats had cheered the deal they reached with their most conservative member, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to advance elements of their agenda, Sanders criticized it as failing to deliver for those who needed it most. 

“This bill turns its back on you,” he had said in a Tuesday floor speech. 

The Inflation Reduction Act would invest historic sums of money in fighting climate change, lower the price of prescription drugs and extend health insurance subsidies to low- and moderate-income people. But unlike the far larger Build Back Better legislation Sanders sought to pass, the Manchin deal would do nothing to address the housing crisis, student debt or the cost of child care, he argued. 

And despite its name, Sanders said Saturday on the Senate floor, the Inflation Reduction Act “will, in fact, have a minimal impact on inflation” — a remark Republicans eagerly repeated.

During a 16-hour “vote-a-rama” that lasted from Saturday to Sunday, Sanders joined his Republican colleagues in proposing amendments to it — though unlike theirs, which sought to weaken it, his sought to strengthen it. 

Sanders’ amendments would have extended the child care tax credit, provided dental and vision care to some Medicare recipients, capped the cost of prescription drugs, and established a civilian climate corps. Each was defeated by a lopsided margin. And as the debate dragged on, some Democrats appeared to grow frustrated with Sanders for pushing amendments they thought would tank the fragile deal in a closely divided Senate. 

“Come on, Bernie,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was overheard saying

Though his amendments failed, Sanders ultimately joined Vermont’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy, in voting for the bill Sunday. It passed 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. 

The bill, Sanders said in a written statement, “goes nowhere near far enough in addressing the problems facing struggling working families. But it is a step forward and I was happy to support it.” 

Sanders pointed in particular to the nearly $400 billion it would invest in climate action, the 15% minimum tax it would impose on corporations and the power it would give Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with manufacturers. 

Leahy, meanwhile, called the legislation “a once-in-a-generation bill” and the vote in favor of it “historic.”

“Does this bill address every crisis facing our country?” Leahy asked in a written statement. “No. Does it take substantial steps forward in meeting the greatest threat to future generations in climate change? Yes.”

The bill next moves to the U.S. House, where Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., is expected to vote for it. It would then go to President Joe Biden for his signature. 

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Paul Heintz

About Paul

Paul Heintz is managing editor of VTDigger.org, where he oversees day-to-day operations of the newsroom. Heintz previously spent nine years at Burlington’s Seven Days newspaper, serving as a reporter, columnist and political editor. During that time, he was named journalist of the year by the New England Society of News Editors and won the New England Newspaper & Press Association’s Morley L. Piper First Amendment Award for his successful advocacy for Vermont’s first media shield law. Heintz previously worked in the U.S. House of Representatives and for the Brattleboro Reformer and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and thru-paddled the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

Email: [email protected]

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