Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Wednesday that he will be filing amendments to remove fossil fuel industry giveaways from Democrats’ new reconciliation bill and strengthen the legislation’s drug price provisions, which the Vermont senator has characterized as unacceptably weak.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Sanders reiterated the message he delivered in Tuesday remarks outlining what he sees as the deep flaws of the reconciliation package, the product of months of negotiations primarily between fossil fuel industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“We have got to do everything possible to take on the greed of the fossil fuel industry, not give billions of dollars in corporate welfare to an industry that has been actively destroying our planet,” Sanders said in his Wednesday speech. “I will be introducing an amendment to do just that.”
According to Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ staff director, the amendment would “eliminate all of the fossil fuel giveaways in the so-called ‘Inflation Reduction Act,'” a proposed change that’s sure to draw opposition from Manchin.
One section Sanders is targeting is the requirement that millions of acres of public lands be offered for oil drilling as a condition for new solar and wind development. He also warned that the measure in its current form would give the oil and gas industry “billions of dollars in new tax breaks and subsidies over the next 10 years.”
“It might seem a bit incongruous to people why we are rewarding the people whose emissions are driving the temperature of the Earth up and causing massive destruction,” the senator said, “but that is in fact what this bill does.”Play
Sanders also said he intends to introduce an amendment that would ensure Medicare “pays no more for prescription drugs” than the Department of Veterans Affairs. At present, the reconciliation bill includes limited provisions that would require Medicare to negotiate the prices of a small number of drugs directly with pharmaceutical companies, which are lobbying aggressively against the proposal.
A recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that in 2017, Medicare Part D—the prescription drug benefit provided through government-approved private plans—paid twice as much as the Department of Veterans Affairs on average for the same medicines.
“How insane is it that you have one federal agency called the VA that pays 50% of what Medicare pays,” Sanders said Wednesday. “I mean, how crazy is that?”
“When it comes to reducing the price of prescription drugs under Medicare, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he continued. “We could simply require Medicare to pay no more for prescription drugs than the VA pays, end of discussion… And if we did that, we could save Medicare some $900 billion over the next decade. That is nine times more savings than the rather weak negotiation provision in this bill.”
The Vermont senator’s criticism of the reconciliation bill and his proposed fixes come as Democrats are racing to complete work on the package by the end of this week and pass it before recess is scheduled to start on August 8.
The Senate parliamentarian is currently examining provisions of the legislation and preparing to advise lawmakers on whether each section complies with the arcane rules of budget reconciliation, raising the possibility of last-minute changes to the bill.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), meanwhile, is reportedly pushing for the removal of carried interest provisions aimed at limiting the ability of private equity moguls and hedge fund managers to dodge taxes. Sinema, whose vote is necessary for final passage, has yet to publicly express support for the bill.