House Passes 'Build Back Better' Social Spending Bill

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House Passes 'Build Back Better' Social Spending Bill
The bill now heads to the Senate, where cost-cutting demands by Sen. Joe Manchin seem certain to force significant changes.

Democrats brushed aside months-long divisions and pushed their expansive social and environment bill through a sharply divided House on Friday, as President Joe Biden and his party moved closer to capitalizing on their control of government by funneling its resources toward their top domestic priorities.

The House approved the legislation by a near party-line 220-213 vote, sending the measure to a Senate where cost-cutting demands by moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and that chamber’s strict rules seem certain to force significant changes. That will prompt fresh disputes between party centrists and progressives that will likely take weeks to resolve.

Even so, House passage marked a watershed for a measure remarkable for the breadth and depth of the changes it would make in federal policies. Wrapped into one bill are far-reaching changes in taxation, health care, energy, climate change, family services, education and housing. That shows the Democrats’ desire to achieve their goals while controlling the White House and Congress — a dominance that could well end after next year’s midterm elections.

The House vote also gave President Biden a momentary taste of victory, and probably relief, during perhaps the rockiest period of his presidency. He’s been battered by falling approval numbers in polls, reflecting voters’ concerns over inflation, gridlocked supply chains and the persistent coronavirus pandemic, leaving Democrats worried that their legislative efforts are not breaking through to voters.

Final approval of the bigger bill, which had been expected Thursday, was delayed when Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., delivered an eight and one-half hour broadside criticizing President Biden, Democrats and the bill, the longest speech ever made in the House. When he finished his remarks near dawn, the House recessed briefly before resuming its work, dozens of members designating colleagues to cast their votes.

McCarthy, who hopes to become speaker if Republicans capture the chamber in next year’s elections, recited problems the country has faced under President Biden, including inflation, China's rise and large numbers of immigrants crossing the Southwest border. “Yeah, I want to go back,” he said in mocking reference to the “Build Back Better” name President Biden uses for the legislation.

Friday's vote came after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the package would worsen federal deficits by $160 billion over the coming decade. The agency also recalculated the measure’s 10-year price tag at $1.68 trillion, though that figure wasn’t directly comparable to a $1.85 trillion figure Democrats have been using.

The 2,100-page bill’s initiatives include bolstering child care assistance, creating free preschool, curbing seniors’ prescription drug costs and increasing efforts to slow climate change. Also included are tax credits to spur clean energy development, bolstered child care assistance and extended tax breaks for millions of families with children, lower-earning workers and people buying private health insurance.

There is also language to let the government issue work permits to millions of immigrants that would let them stay in the U.S. temporarily, and to save $297 billion by letting the government curb prescription drug costs. The fate of both those provisions is uncertain in the Senate, where the chamber’s nonpartisan parliamentarian enforces rules that limit provisions allowed in budget bills.

The nonpartisan private Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which preaches fiscal constraint, estimated that the bill’s overall cost would be nearly $5 trillion if Democrats hadn’t made some of its programs temporary. For example, tax credits for children and low-earning workers are extended for just one year, making their price tags appear lower, even though the party would like those programs to be permanent.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.