US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont
Dear Fellow Vermonter,
As you may know, the Senate passed a reconciliation bill on Sunday called the "Inflation Reduction Act." The vote was 51-50. I voted for it.
Let me be honest with you in saying that I have very ambivalent feelings about this legislation. This bill was a chance to do big things. It did very modest things. It was a chance to stand up boldly for the working families of our country who, today, are struggling hard to keep their heads above water. Sadly, it didn't do that.
In my view, after weighing the pluses and the minuses of the bill, the pluses won out and I voted for it. But let's be clear. This is only the beginning. We still have a long way to go to create the kind of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice the people of our country deserve. And that is not going to happen unless we fight for it. And that's exactly what I intend to do.
As you may know, a reconciliation bill is one of the few opportunities we have in the Senate to pass major legislation with 50 votes, not the usual 60. It is unfortunate, therefore, that not one of the 50 Republicans in the Senate was prepared to come forward and support a bill which would have addressed the many serious problems facing struggling working families. That meant that we needed all 50 Democrats in the Senate to stand together if we were going to address the major crises facing our country.
That's not what happened. Two corporate Democrats, both of whom receive huge amounts of campaign contributions from powerful special interests, prevented that from happening.
The result is that this bill does nothing to reform our dysfunctional, wasteful and cruel health care system. It does nothing to address the massive levels of income and wealth inequality and concentration of ownership that we are currently experiencing. It does nothing to raise the starvation minimum wage or make it easier for workers to join unions. It does nothing to build the millions of units of affordable housing we need. It does nothing to address the crisis of childhood poverty and a totally inadequate childcare system. It does nothing to address the home health care crisis facing our seniors and people with disabilities. It does nothing to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing, and vision care. It does nothing to make it easier for young Americans to get a higher education, or pay off their student debt. It does nothing to move us forward toward immigration reform or voting rights reform.
So, what does this bill do? Why did I vote for it?
This legislation makes major investments in clean energy and energy efficiency. At a time when we face the existential crisis of climate change, the most significant part of this bill is an unprecedented $300 billion investment in clean energy, including a $7 billion solar roof top proposal that I introduced. This bill could help increase U.S. solar energy by 500% and more than double wind energy by 2035. That is no small thing.
But here is the very negative aspect of this bill which I tried, unsuccessfully, to correct. Unbelievably, at a time when we are trying to cut carbon emissions, this bill provides massive giveaways to the fossil fuel industry. Under this legislation, up to 60 million acres of public waters and up to 2 million acres of public lands must be offered up for sale each and every year to the oil and gas industry before the federal government could approve any new wind or solar projects. And that’s not all. The fossil fuel industry will benefit from a side deal that would approve the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline – a fracked gas pipeline that would span 303 miles from West Virginia to Virginia, and potentially on to North Carolina. This is a pipeline that would generate emissions equivalent to that released by 37 coal plants or by over 27 million cars every year and is vigorously opposed by the environmental community. It is beyond comprehension that these anti-environmental provisions are in the bill.
As you may know, I have been one of the leaders in Congress in taking on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry which charges us, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. This bill takes a small step forward in doing something that many of us have demanded for years. The good news is that it will allow Medicare to negotiate the outrageously high prices of prescription drugs and lower drug costs. The bad news is that these negotiations won’t go into effect until 2026 and they will begin with only 10 drugs. Further, this bill will cap the out-of-pocket costs seniors pay for prescription drugs at no more than $2,000 a year. That is the good news. The bad news is that this provision won't go into effect until 2025. Under this bill we will continue paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for our medicines for the indefinite future. It is unfortunate that the Senate did not go further in lowering drug prices.
In terms of tax policy, this bill begins the work of making the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes by imposing a 15% minimum tax on corporations. In America today, large corporations like AT&T, Nike and Federal Express are able to make billions in profits and pay nothing in federal income taxes. This bill begins to end that absurdity. Further, this legislation gives the IRS the resources they need to audit wealthy tax cheats who are avoiding over $160 billion in taxes each and every year and will also help ordinary, working people get their tax returns faster.
Bottom line. This is a modest bill that does some good things, but goes nowhere far enough. It also contains some very bad provisions that will benefit fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell.
At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, when the people on top are doing phenomenally well while working families are struggling, we should have done much more. The struggle continues.