PORTLAND, Ore. —
Congress passed a sweeping, $750 billion health care, tax
and climate bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act this week, but the Senate
vote on Sunday came only after an exhausting 16-hour marathon session.
Under the bizarre
rules of a Senate process known as “vote-a-rama,” Senators can offer
amendments and each one requires a vote. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley called it
a grueling and somewhat mysterious exercise.
80-year-old Senators going clear though the night like they were in
college,” he said. “And not just through the night, but through the
next day, too.”
stayed unified through the process, with all 50 members of their caucus voting
in lockstep and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaker vote in the
evenly divided Senate.
The House took the
bill up Friday and passed it in a 220-207 vote, sending it on to President Joe
Biden’s desk to be signed into law. Senator Merkley hailed the passage of the
bill “a very big deal.”
“It is really
focused on energy costs and drug costs, and on tax equity to finally have some
of the biggest corporations actually pay their fair share,” he said.
Senator Merkley was
a guest on this week’s episode of Straight Talk to discuss how the bill will
impact Americans and lower inflation.
“It’s going to save lives”
One of the most
significant parts of the bill is a change that will allow Medicare to negotiate
the prices of certain expensive drugs.
It only includes 10
drugs beginning in 2026, but Merkley called it a good start. Every other
developed country already negotiates prices with pharmaceutical companies, he
said, and Americans pay multiple times more for drugs than people in those
doesn’t go far enough, fast enough in my opinion,” he said. “I’d like
to see us negotiate every drug in America tomorrow. We should get the best
prices in America, not the worse. But, for the first time, it starts that
process. And drug prices are a big deal to people.”
The bill also caps
out-of-pocket expenses at $2000 for people on Medicare. Some older Americans
currently have to pay ten times that amount for medications, Merkley said, and
often stop taking the drugs they need because they can’t afford them.
“It’s going to
save lives, improve the quality of life for millions of Americans, and it’s
going to put an inflation cap on those drugs in the future so we don’t see the
price gouges we’ve seen in the past,” he said.
Responding to drug
companies’ claims that passage of the bill was a mistake and will reverse
progress on research into new treatments and medicines, Senator Merkley called
the argument, “bogus.”
“It’s a false story by a powerful industry…They use dark money
campaigns, they use media campaigns to sustain this incredibly privileged
position to rip us all off. This has to end. And this is the very beginning of
it ending,” he said.
The nearly $400
billion climate portion of the package is the largest climate investment in US
history. It’s expected to have a crucial impact on reducing greenhouse gasses,
with the goal of cutting U.S. emissions 40% by 2030.
It includes a host
of tax incentives to bring down energy costs with the use of more renewable
energy and aims to get Americans to switch to electricity to power their homes
and cars. It also extends an electric vehicle tax credit.
“It’s not as
strong as we wanted it to be, again, I’d like to take it further,” Merkley
said. “But, one thing I really do like is it provides a tax credit,
following Oregon’s example, for used electric vehicles…This will really help
spread the transition to electric vehicles throughout our community.”
Reduction Act alone won’t be enough to get to Biden’s goal of cutting emissions
in half by 2030, Merkley said. He has urged Biden to declare a “Climate
Emergency” under the National Emergency Act, which would give the
President sweeping powers to take action on things like banning US crude oil
exports, ending offshore drilling, and speeding up the manufacture of electric
Meeting the target
will also require tackling the challenge of methane and carbon dioxide in the
air, he said, and America has to set an example in that effort.
“We can’t lead
the world without the power of our example,” he said. “So, the power
of our example is we use not only this law, we also we use all the powers of
the executive branch.”
$300 billion deficit reduction
The bill also closes
some tax loopholes and adds a 1% excise tax on certain corporate stock
buybacks. Merkley said the bill will cut the deficit by $300 billion.
“So we raised
more money than we are spending by a significant factor… We are doing good
programs that take on real issues and it cuts the deficit,” he said.
discussed funding for community projects across Oregon, Democrats’ prospects in
the upcoming midterm election and his push for filibuster reform in the Senate.