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$3.5 Trillion Social Benefits Resolution Gets Down to Wire

August 27, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
The Capitol building, July 30, 2021. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders signaled Wednesday that the historic $3.5 trillion social benefits package getting its last revisions before a final vote is likely to include support for more affordable housing.

Housing provisions are some of the most controversial portions of the bill with Republicans calling them inflationary but Democrats saying they are essential to even out the differences between rich and poor.

A letter signed by more than 100 Democratic lawmakers and sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday urged expansion of low-income housing tax credits in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Plan.

“Now is the time to expand and improve the Housing Credit to tackle America’s affordable housing crisis in a meaningful way that leads to stronger and more productive communities, greater economic mobility and job growth, as well as better educational and health outcomes,” the letter says.

The low-income housing tax credit is a tax break for developers of affordable rental housing units.

The draft of the bill approved by the House on Tuesday would increase the federal government’s allocation to states for the tax credit. It would be passed on to developers through tax exempt bonds to build or repair housing for underserved communities.

The bill “expands, strengthens, and streamlines the vital Housing Credit program when it is sorely needed as our economy works to recover from the pandemic,” the Democrats wrote in their letter.

Pelosi is saying only that the House leaders are cooperating with the Senate to ensure the budget resolution will be acceptable to all of them.

Other parts of the bill are unlikely to change much as lawmakers resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.

They include an expansion of Medicare and clean energy development, both of which have bipartisan support. More funding for education and childcare face tougher battles, particularly because President Joe Biden wants to pay for them through higher taxes.

Medicare, which insures most Americans who are at least 65 years old, would add coverage for dental, vision and hearing care under the congressional budget resolution. The age for eligibility would drop to 60 years old.

Advocates for expanded Medicare benefits include Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who said the alternative is worse.

“People who lack vision, hearing, and dental care, they’re going to fall, they’re going to overuse painkillers that will lead to addiction,” Blumenthal said. “They’re going to be isolated, anxious, depressed and need treatment for mental and emotional care. These costs are going to be much higher if we fail to provide this kind of care.”

Medicare now, which is not much changed from the way it was enacted in 1965, provides coverage for hospital and outpatient care.

The budget resolution also seeks to right the wrongs of climate change while creating new clean energy jobs.

Much of the Senate’s climate work on the bill is being done by the Environment and Public Works Committee, which is following a goal of making “environmental justice investments in clean water affordability and access, healthy ports and climate equity.”

Meanwhile, a House Budget Committee statement says it is proposing investments “in clean energy, efficiency, electrification, and climate justice through grants, consumer rebates, and federal procurement of clean power and sustainable materials, and by incentivizing private sector development and investment.”

Biden is pushing for funds to rejuvenate the nation’s water systems by replacing all older pipes that contain lead or other carcinogens.

Democrats say they know they have only a razor-thin margin for victory on the budget resolution, particularly considering Biden wants to pay for the programs with higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

He also wants to toughen Internal Revenue Service tax enforcement to make certain the government gets paid.

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