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Biden Vows Executive Action on Climate If Senate Doesn’t Act

·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden vowed to take executive action on climate change after Senator Joe Manchin put a sweeping tax and energy bill on hold, telling congressional Democrats to move ahead on a smaller measure to rein in drug prices and stop premium hikes for Obamacare.

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Manchin said Friday he’d be willing back a prescription drug pricing package tied to a two-year extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies before a scheduled August recess. But he put the brakes on enacting a wider package of tax changes and measures to address climate change until at least September.

The delay prompted other congressional Democrats to urge Biden to act on his own and the president responded.

“If the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean-energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House Friday while the president was in Saudi Arabia. “I will not back down: the opportunity to create jobs and build a clean-energy future is too important to relent.”

The president’s economic package has already been shrunk because of Manchin’s demands to hold down government spending and address the deficit. It was to be a centerpiece for Democratic congressional campaigns in the November election, which will decide control of the House and Senate.

Biden kept his distance from Manchin after Manchin scuttled talks on a $2 trillion package in December and left negotiations to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in recent months.

Biden said he couldn’t assess Manchin’s motivations in his latest pullback from negotiations and had “no idea” whether he was acting in good faith.

“I didn’t negotiate with Joe Manchin,” Biden said at a news conference in Saudi Arabia.

While the climate and tax provisions are popular with the party’s core voters, the drug pricing provision and Obamacare subsidies would be politically potent.

The drug bill would allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of some drugs -- generating nearly $300 billion in savings for the government -- and cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors at $2,000 per year. An extension of expanded subsidies for Obamacare premiums would avoid the cost of some plans tripling in January, when the enlarged subsidies phase out. Notices of those premium increases begin going out in August in some states.

“The Senate should move forward, pass it before the August recess, and get it to my desk so I can sign it,” Biden said in the statement. While the statement never mentioned Manchin by name, Biden added that lowering the cost of both prescription drugs and health care would reduce the deficit and fight inflation, two major issue for the West Virginia Democrat.

Senate Democrats are moving forward next week on working with the Senate parliamentarian official to ensure a drug price bill complies with Senate budget rules, according to a Senate aide. This is step is necessary before any legislation can be brought to the floor under the fast-track budget process that bypasses Republicans.

Whether it is technically possible to do a second bill with other parts of Biden’s agenda in September using the same budget outline has not yet been officially determined under Senate rules. Senate Democrats could pass a new budget however if they truly wanted to do another budget bill. It would just take extra time.

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