WASHINGTON – The House Friday morning passed President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, a wide-ranging package of Democratic social spending priorities that includes free preschool, initiatives to fight climate change and affordable housing programs.
The legislation was approved on a 220-213 vote clearing a major hurdle for a plan that is the cornerstone of his sweeping domestic agenda to expand the nation’s social safety net, confront climate change, and help Americans bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measure now goes to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.
The roughly $2 trillion package of progressive priorities would provide free universal preschoolfor three- and four-year olds, caps certain drug costs, boosts Pell grants for college tuition, expands family leave, and provides new hearing benefit for seniors. It would address climate change through billions in incentive programs while also spending money to electrify up to 165,000 U.S. Postal Service trucks and creating a Civilian Climate Corps. It also increases corporate taxes and beefs up IRS enforcement.
Biden in a statement called the House vote “another giant step forward in carrying out my economic plan to create jobs, reduce costs, make our country more competitive, and give working people and the middle class a fighting chance.”
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hailed the measure as “historic, transformative and larger than anything we have ever done before.”
“We are building back better,” she said before the vote. “If you’re a parent, a senior, a child, a worker. If you’re an American, this bill is for you.”
After the bill passed, Democrats gathered at the front of the chamber, hugging, dancing and applauding. A cheer of, “Nancy! Nancy! Nancy!” broke out.
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The vote was supposed to take place Thursday evening but it was pushed into Friday morning following a marathon floor speech by GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy who railed against the bill as “another unnecessary spending binge.” He spoke for more then eight hours straight, breaking the modern-day record for the longest floor speech that had been held by Pelosi.
“Enough with Washington waste. Enough with the fraud, Washington abuse and Washington corruption,” he said in a speech that touched on the border, hypersonic weapons, competition with China, and inflationary prices.
The legislation, whittled down from an original $3.5 trillion price tag, was scaled back to appease moderate Democrats in the Senate — Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — who took issue with the cost of the bill and some climate, prescription drug and tax provisions.
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On Monday, Manchin, who has been at the heart of the negotiations, raised concerns about the amount of debt the bill would generate while existing government social programs are at risk. Sinema has been largely silent on whether she could support the latest version passed by the House.
Biden needs the support of all 50 Democratic senators – and Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote – to pass the bill without Republican support through a legislative process called reconciliation that bypasses a filibuster.
The House vote on the bill was delayed earlier this fall because House moderates expressed concern about the cost. A group of centrists blocked the legislation from coming up for a vote earlier this month because they demanded a Congressional Budget Office estimate of the bill’s cost be released first. On Thursday, the CBO released its projection that the bill would add about $160 billion in new federal debt over the next decade though Biden and White House officials continue to insist the measure would reduce the deficit over the next decade.
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One of the moderate House Democrats who wanted to see the CBO score, Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, said before the vote she would support the measure.
“There is a lot of good in this bill, and as a pragmatic Democrat who wants to deliver for my constituents, I am never one to let the perfect become the enemy of good,” she said in a tweet.
Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, was the only Democrat to vote against the bill. He told the Bangor Daily News prior to the vote he would oppose the legislation due to a tax change he said largely benefits the wealthy.
The CBO estimated the 10-year cost of the bill to be $1.68 trillion. Biden and Democrats had touted the bill as costing $1.85 trillion.
Republicans dismissed the measure as costly and misdirected, while the White House insisted that with beefed-up IRS enforcement, the bill will pay for itself.
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McCarthy’s speech followed hours of debate on the bill on Thursday, when Republicans argued the bill doesn’t address the economic issues facing the U.S. and Democrats cheered the bill as historic.
“With record high inflation and gas prices, supply chain shortages in what’s going to be the most expensive Thanksgiving on record, Democrats should focus on addressing real economic crises that are facing real Americans and real American workers every day,” Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler said on the House floor Thursday.
But Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern said he ran for Congress to pass sweeping bills like this.
“Republicans are never going to support this bill. Maybe they don’t want to see health care coverage expanded. Or maybe they don’t want to see insulin costs capped. Or maybe they don’t want to see education costs lowered. Or families given a tax break. Or workers given paid family and medical leave. Maybe they will just never support anything President Biden likes. I don’t know,” he said. “But I do know this. Tonight, we have a chance to advance an historic bill that will truly change people’s lives for the better. This is why I ran for Congress.”
Despite the uncertainty the legislation in the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled to reporters Wednesday he wants to vote on it by the end of the calendar year.
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The bill includes:
- Universal preschool to cover more than 6 million three- and four-year olds
- An expansion of Medicare coverage to cover hearing
- Several initiatives aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs, including insulin
- Health care subsidies for low-income Americans
- Initiatives to combat climate change, including electrification of the U.S Postal Service fleet
- Four weeks of paid family and medical leave
- An extension of the child tax credit through 2022 at $300 a month for each child under the age of 6 and $250 a month for each child ages 6-17
- Creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to fight the effects of a warming planet
- Billions to higher more IRS agents to crack down on tax cheats
- Expanded aid for Historically Black Colleges and Universities
- Makes another 9 million more children eligible to receive free school meals