Montana senators split on Inflation Reduction Act, push to amend it

By: - August 9, 2022 8:32 pm

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, talks about the massive 700-page-plus spending bill before voting on it on Aug. 7, 2022 (Video screen via Office of Steve Daines).

Both Montana Senators took cracks at the Inflation Reduction Act during the almost 24-hour “vote-a-rama” that started Saturday evening and ended with 51-50 approval and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. 

Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines voted with their respective parties, and both senators used the lengthy session to bring forward some of the at least 400 amendments introduced to try to further their own policy priorities on everything from timber harvests to immigration.  In all, just 28 amendments reached the floor, and most failed.

The $750 billion budget reconciliation is the most comprehensive federal investment in U.S. history to make prescription drugs more affordable and to combat climate change.

Tester, a Democrat, proposed one amendment that failed on the floor 56-44, but he voted in favor of the bill.

“I’ve heard directly from folks in every corner of our state asking me to find solutions that will bring down costs and help our country maintain its place as the leading economic power in the world, and that’s exactly what the Inflation Reduction Act does,” Tester said in a statement.

Republican Daines introduced 15 amendments, according to his office, but he voted against the package.

“The Democrats’ reckless tax and spend bill is bad for Montana families, bad for Montana energy jobs and bad for Montanans’ pocketbooks,” he said in a statement after the bill passed.

Tester’s proposal

Tester’s single amendment followed an amendment from Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, which called for pulling $1 million from the Affordable Care Act to maintain Title 42, a Trump-era health order that closed the border to migrants if they didn’t already have legal permission, including those seeking asylum.

President Joe Biden rescinded Title 42, but a federal judge temporarily blocked the administration from lifting it in May. The title is currently under appeal at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Republican Lankford’s amendment failed on a 50-50 vote, but Tester immediately introduced a similar amendment under a different procedure calling for the Biden administration to have a comprehensive Department of Homeland Security plan in place before the order is lifted. Tester’s amendment failed as well but gained support from five Democrats in vulnerable seats along the way. 

According to the Texas Tribune, officials have used the Title 42 order more than 2 million times to expel migrants, and the rate of migrants apprehended more than once (the recidivism rate) has increased from 7 percent to 27 percent since it has been in place.

“Ending Title 42 is expected to cause a significant increase of migration to the U.S. and put more pressure on an already broken system. These problems do not only affect the southern border, but put more strain on those working to secure the northern border as well,” Tester wrote in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security shortly after Biden revoked the order. “Title 42 is an emergency order and should not stay in effect indefinitely, especially as we continue making headway in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. We should not end this policy without ample preparation.”

On the Senate floor, Lankford accused Tester of playing politics by sidelining effective legislation and pitching an amendment he knew wouldn’t pass since it needed 60 votes.

“This allowed any individual to be able to vote for (Title 42) but actually oppose the one that would have actually implemented the policy,” Lankford said at the time. “This is the reason people get so angry at Washington, D.C.”

Daines pitches amendments

According to Daines’ communications office, he introduced 15 amendments,  but only one, which concerned oil and gas royalty rates, made it to the floor. It failed 50-50. Daines’ amendments included setting a timber harvest quota, reallocating funding for the IRS to taxpayer services, and providing $900 million through 2029 for natural disaster recovery on public lands, among others.

“As Montanans continue to struggle with sky-high prices on everything from gas to groceries to housing, every single Senate Democrat voted to raise energy costs, give taxpayer dollars to the rich for electric vehicles, increase taxes and supersize the IRS to go after small businesses and families – it’s a slap in the face to Montana families,” Daines said in his statement after the bill passed. 

Daines also voted with other Republicans to remove a $35 cap on insulin for patients on private insurance, but the insulin price cap for Medicare patients remains in the bill. According to Daines’ communications office, the Republicans introduced a rival amendment to fund $3.1 billion to support direct costs incurred by community health centers to make discounted insulin available to low-income patients, but it would not have introduced a set cap for insulin prices, and it also failed.

Daines’ office also said he is a cosponsor on the Lower Costs, More Cures Act, which would classify insulin and other chronic treatments as preventative care so high deductible plans can cover costs before the patient reaches their deductible.

According to Kaiser Health News, Daines has received $237,500 from pharmaceutical companies since 2007, $146,000 of which was during the 2020 election cycle.

Daines cited the Joint Committee on Taxation in his statement after the vote as proof it would raise taxes on the middle classes despite Biden’s promise that the bill would not raise taxes for Americans making less than $400,000 a year.

However, the Committee’s analysis said the 15 percent minimum tax for corporations would result in higher effective rates for Americans across the spectrum, but the main increase would fall on corporations and not individuals. Senate Republicans have said the committee’s assumption that higher corporate taxes will partially fall on workers whose wages could drop is the same as raising taxes on lower classes, but their direct tax rates will not increase under the bill.

Other provisions

Although the bill is scaled back from the original $2.2 trillion Build Back Better Plan that passed the House in November, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation projects the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce the federal deficit by about $300 billion over a decade through increased IRS tax enforcement. The package also put $370 billion into climate and energy programs that could allow the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The bill, among many other provisions, additionally will allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of medicines directly for the first time in 2026. It will also extend large premium subsidies for low- and middle-income individuals under the Affordable Care Act and caps the amount recipients pay out of pocket for prescriptions at $2,000 each year.

As of July 2020, Montana had 236,473 residents with Medicare coverage, a greater share of residents on Medicare than the national rate with 22 percent of the state enrolled versus 19 percent of the total U.S. population.

The Inflation Reduction Act is expected to pass the House in a vote on Friday, albeit likely without support from Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale, a Republican, and it could end up on Biden’s desk to sign into law this weekend. 

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Emily Tschetter
Emily Tschetter

Emily Tschetter is a junior studying journalism and political science at the University of Montana. She was born and raised in Billings and grew up surrounded with music between going to concerts and playing cello. She worked at the Montana Kaimin, University of Montana's independent student newspaper, as a news reporter last school year and will start as the news editor in the fall. In her free time Emily loves building up her vinyl collection, being overly critical of movies, going to cheap diners with friends and enjoying music whenever she can.