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Democrats Pass the Build Back Better Act, Send Sweeping Bill to Senate

November 19, 2021 by Dan McCue
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., presides over House passage of President Joe Biden's expansive social and environment bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — It was a long night’s journey into day but in the end, House Democrats passed the $1.85 trillion Build Back Better Act, President Joe Biden’s sweeping social program and climate spending plan by a vote of 220-213.

One Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine, voted against the bill, primarily in opposition to SALT relief, a provision critical to the support of Northeast moderates as it lifts a $10,000 cap on the deductions federal taxpayers can take for state and local taxes paid.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where Democrats plan to pass it using the process of reconciliation, thereby avoiding a Republican filibuster. However, that process does not prevent the bill from being amended and any changes that are made would require a second vote in the House.

In a statement released by the White House shortly before the president left for Walter Reed hospital for a routine physical, Biden called the vote “another giant step forward” in carrying out his plan “to create jobs, reduce costs, make our country more competitive, and give working people and the middle class a fighting chance.

“The Build Back Better Act is fiscally responsible. It reduces the deficit over the long-term,” the president said. “It’s fully paid for by making sure that the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations begin to pay their fair share in federal taxes. It keeps my commitment that no one earning less than $400,000 a year will pay a penny more in federal taxes.

“Leading economists and independent experts on Wall Street have confirmed that it will not add to inflationary pressures. Instead, it will boost the capacity of our economy and reduce costs for millions of families,” Biden continued, adding, “Above all, it puts us on the path to build our economy back better than before by rebuilding the backbone of America: working people and the middle class.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was more succinct: “This bill is monumental, it’s transformative, it’s bigger than anything we’ve ever done.”

In this image from House Television, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks on the House floor during debate on the Democrats’ expansive social and environment bill at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington. (House Television via AP)

Pelosi had wanted the vote to be held Thursday night and the momentum appeared to be in its favor after the Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the bill in what most considered record time.

But those hopes were dashed shortly after 8:30 p.m. Thursday night, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, rose to speak on the House floor.

Utilizing a custom known informally as “the magic minute,” McCarthy went on to speak for a record eight hours and 32 minutes — said to be the longest continuous House speech in modern history.

The “magic minute” allows House leaders, including the speaker, majority leader and minority leader to speak for as long as they want during a floor debate. That makes it a rough equivalent to the filibuster in the Senate.

McCarthy’s remarks mostly assailed the bill before the chamber, the majority party in the House and Senate, and President Biden’s policies on a number of matters in general.

And he didn’t stop even after House Democratic leaders sent their members home around midnight.

He finally yielded the floor shortly after 5 a.m.

Prior to McCarthy’s gambit, the vote on the bill was delayed for two weeks as House moderates demanded the Congressional Budget Office publish its analysis of the costs and revenues generated by the bill before they’d sign onto it.

That estimate, released on Thursday afternoon, found that the package would increase the federal budget deficit by $160 billion over 10 years. 

A supporter of the Build Back Better bill outside the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

It also said the package would largely be paid for with tax increases on high earners and corporations, estimated to bring in nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

According to the White House, the key provisions of the Build Back Better Act will:

  • Lower costs to save people money on things like prescription drugs and health care and housing;
  • Get Americans back to work by providing child care and care for seniors so workers can get back on the job knowing their loved ones have the care they need;
  • Cut taxes for working families and the middle class – including extending the Child Tax Credit that is already helping the families of more than 61 million children and getting the country closer to cutting child poverty in half this year;
  • Provide universal pre-Kindergarten for every 3-and 4-year old in America and make education beyond high school more affordable — with historic investments in Pell Grants and historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic serving Institutions and other minority serving Institutions, and tribal colleges and universities.

“Together with the bipartisan infrastructure law, it makes the most significant investment in our fight against the climate crisis ever by creating jobs that build a clean energy future for our children and grandchildren,” Biden said in his statement.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also weighed in, saying Friday’s vote moved the country closer “to a stronger, more resilient economy with greater productivity and labor force participation and a lower tax burden on middle class families.”

“This fiscally responsible package takes aim at the challenges many middle class families face: It makes child care affordable, freeing parents from having to choose between raising kids and working a job,” Yellen said. “It prevents children from entering the first grade at a disadvantage by providing universal pre-K. It gives seniors the affordable care and housing they need. As important, the Build Back Better Act also makes an historically large investment in combating climate change. This bill is more than fully paid for by asking large corporations and the country’s top earners to pay their fair share and by finally ensuring high-income tax evaders pay what they owe.”

Prior to Friday’s vote, Rep. Golden explained his no vote in an interview with the Portland Press Herald newspaper in his home state of Maine.

“There are so many great things we could do with this money instead of doing one of the worst things, which is to give it to millionaires,” Golden explained. “This is about getting this right in regards to how we prioritize things and how it will speak about what our greatest values are. To me, I want our focus to be on kids living in poverty, on the public education system, on access to pre-K.”

“The House passage of the Build Back Better Act is an important step forward for our nation’s families, workers, and communities,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, chair of the New Democrat Coalition. “The New Democrat Coalition worked tirelessly to ensure that the final bill achieves robust, immediate, and long-term results for our constituents. Democrats ran on strengthening the middle class, expanding access to health care, growing the economy, and protecting our planet. With the enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and House passage of the Build Back Better Act, we are delivering on those promises. We look forward to the Senate acting on this legislation so we can send the Build Back Better Act to the president’s desk as quickly as possible.” 

Debbie Cox Bultan, CEO of NewDEAL, a group that facilitates the exchange of innovative ideas among leaders at all level of government, said Friday “the Build Back Better Act passed by the House targets solutions that state and local leaders know are crucial to addressing their communities biggest challenges, especially around high costs of living.

“From child care support and universal preschool to paid family leave and lowering health care premiums, the legislation directs resources to where NewDEAL Leaders and their colleagues across the country see the biggest needs for their constituents,” Bulton said. “Crucially, this bill also makes huge investments in combating climate change, supercharging the types of efforts that states and cities have prioritized in their climate action plans. I join NewDEALers in urging the Senate to move swiftly to pass this bill and to make these desperately needed solutions a reality for the American people.”

As for the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday that the House had taken an important step in advancing the Build Back Better plan.

“As soon as the necessary technical and procedural work with the Senate Parliamentarian has been completed, the Senate will take up this legislation. We will act as quickly as possible to get this bill to President Biden’s desk and deliver help for middle-class families,” Schumer said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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