Wyden: Path still open to social, climate change supports
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says there is still a path toward social supports and climate change projects, despite comments by another senator that appear to doom the prospects of the Build Back Better agenda laid out by President Joe Biden.
The Oregon Democrat leads the Senate Finance Committee, which he said has proposed a menu of revenue options that will fully fund priorities in Biden's agenda.
Wyden did not point any fingers at West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, whose vote would be needed to pass any budget resolution in the evenly split Senate, given Republican opposition to Biden's agenda. Manchin said on Sunday, Dec. 19, he could not support the plan.
"Failure is not an option here," Wyden said in a statement issued after Manchin's comments.
"A package that addresses critical priorities over the long-term, like providing financial security for families, lowering the costs of health care and prescription drugs for seniors, and creating clean energy jobs by combating the climate crisis would go a long way toward addressing our challenges. The Finance Committee has put forward a revenue menu with more than enough options to permanently pay for these priorities."
Child tax credit
Wyden focused on three priorities on the agenda.
He spoke in the Senate last week, when the final of six monthly payments went out under the expanded child tax credit that Biden proposed and Congress approved earlier this year as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, Biden's pandemic recovery plan.
The credit was increased from $2,000 per child to $3,000 for children between ages 6 and 17, and $3,600 for children under age 6. Half the money went to parents in the form of payments from the Internal Revenue Service — the final of six payments was Dec. 15 — and the other half will go to parents when 2021 tax returns are filed in the spring, even if they owe no taxes.
But the expanded credit was good only for 2021. The House version of Build Back Better proposed to extend it another year. Manchin opposes the extension, although there are income limits for qualifying families.
"Families … have come to depend on these payments to cover the essentials like rent, groceries, heat and clothing for their children. Food insecurity among families dropped by about 25 percent since these payments began. Child poverty has been cut nearly in half," Wyden said. "This program is Social Security for our children, and Democrats must keep it going over the long term."
Clean energy incentives
The Finance Committee also has authority over tax incentives and financing of the largest federal health insurance programs.
Wyden spoke to objections by Manchin, whose state produces coal, about the incentives in Build Back Better to reduce greenhouse gas pollutants. Wyden said time is running out to avert the worst effects of climate change.
"The linchpin of the clean energy package is permanent, technology-neutral incentives tied to carbon emissions reductions. Fossil fuels that get cleaner are eligible for incentives, just like solar or wind," Wyden said. "This package is supported by utility companies and environmental advocates alike and it's the only path forward that can secure 50 votes and achieve significant emissions reductions in the power sector.
"Sen. Manchin has long said he would only support technology-neutral incentives," he added. "That's exactly what this package is structured around."
Wyden also said it's time to enable the federal government to negotiate prices with drugmakers under Medicare — the federal program of health insurance for people 65 and older, and for some with disabilities — and to continue expanded tax credits that enable people to obtain insurance coverage under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Republican majorities removed federal negotiating authority when Congress approved prescription drug coverage under Medicare in 2003, and Republicans unanimously opposed the Affordable Care Act, though they failed to enact an alternative when Donald Trump was president. The House passed several repeal attempts, but the Senate blocked them in 2017 when a few Republicans joined all Democrats to oppose them.
"Drug companies have been mugging Americans at the pharmacy window for too long, and there may not be another opportunity any time soon for Democrats to put a stop to it," Wyden said. "Fifty million seniors in Medicare have a lot of bargaining power, and it's long past due to put it to use."
The enhanced tax credits included in the American Rescue Plan Act were the first significant changes in the Affordable Care Act since its passage in 2010 under President Barack Obama.
"It's vital that we extend those subsidies to make coverage affordable," Wyden said. "At a time when many American families are concerned about basic costs of living going up, Democrats cannot allow their health care costs to increase unnecessarily."
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