Bennet and Hickenlooper help pass Democrats’ climate, health and tax bill

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet tours the Camp Amache National Historic Site on. Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, where more than 7,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly held during World War II. The visit was timed to coincide with the Senate clearing the way for a bill that would make the site near Granada part of the National Park System, and with the 80th anniversary of the federal order establishing such camps.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper voted to pass Democrats’ ambitious agenda known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

Vice President Kamala Harris made the tie breaking vote Sunday after a 50-50 party-line vote, ultimately passing the bill through the chamber.

The 755-page bill would invest more than $350 billion to tackle climate change, help lower medical costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, tweak the tax code and reduce the deficit.

Both senators signaled their support for the measure early on. 

Bennet negotiated $4 billion in drought funding, while Hickenlooper pushed for a 1% excise tax on corporations’ stock buybacks that helped unify Democrats in support of the bill.

Bennet said passage of the bill will help Coloradans with the rising cost of living – specifically with gas, energy bills and insurance premiums.

“On top of that, it will start to build a fairer tax code, put us on the path to energy independence, and help us lead the fight against climate change,” Bennet said in a statement.

“I’m more hopeful than ever that we can leave Colorado and our country better for the next generation and begin to build an economy that grows for everyone.”

Colorado GOP Senate candidate Joe O’Dea, who is challenging Bennet this fall, criticized the bill, specifically provisions that would create a 15% minimum tax on corporations and Hickenlooper's 1% excise tax on corporate stock buyback from investors.

O'Dea says the bill passes "a tax on working Americans while the economy is in a recession," a statement echoed by Colorado GOP leaders. That criticism points to a report by the Join Committee on Taxation which took into account the potential for corporations to lower job wages and stock values in 2023.

Passage of the bill came after a marathon senate session that included “vote-a-rama”

Overnight and into Sunday, senators debated dozens of amendments to the package for 16 hours.

Republicans offered more than 37 amendments aimed at forcing Democrats into awkward votes heading into the fall midterm elections. Topics ranged from border patrol to permitting reform to delaying implementation of the bill until inflation drops. Senate Republicans’ Communications Center sent out a slew of press releases highlighting how Democrats voted on the amendments.

Democrats remained unified, claiming the GOP amendments were proposed in hopes of killing or jeopardizing the bill.

And Democrats also attempted to put the GOP on the spot. 

The bill included a provision that would cap the cost of insulin at $35 for private insurers, daring Republicans to challenge it on the floor. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham took the dare.

Keeping the provision would have required 60 votes. Only seven Republicans voted with all 50 Democrats to cap the cost of insulin.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, offered up amendments of his own, including a conservation corps and the expanded Child Tax Credit, that were also shot down to ensure passage.

Democrats were able to move on the bill after a year of negotiations that many thought had collapsed on multiple occasions. Slight tweaks were made to get all 50 votes necessary to pass the bill through the reconciliation process. Democrats used the budget procedure to bypass the filibuster and pass the bill with a simple majority.

The House will come back to the Capitol later this week to take up the Inflation Reduction Act. It will likely pass in what is also anticipated to be a party line vote.