President Joe Biden's $2 trillion bill to bolster the social safety net and fight climate change passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, sending it to the Senate where negotiations will continue.
Though pared back from the $3.5 trillion plan that Biden originally sought, the legislation could prove as transformative as any since the Great Society and War on Poverty in the 1960s, some experts say. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published an official cost estimate on Thursday afternoon that found the package would increase the federal budget deficit by $160 billion over 10 years.
The assessment indicated that the package overall would cost slightly more than Mr. Biden’s latest proposal — $2.1 trillion rather than $1.85 trillion.
The House passed the measure in a 220-213 vote, which was postponed after an overnight speech by the chamber's top Republican opposing the measure.
Its fate is unclear in the Senate, where centrist Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have raised concerns about its size and some of its programs. The bill has been scaled down substantially from Democrats' initial $3.5 trillion plan but still aims to invest millions to expand education, lower healthcare costs and tackle climate change.
But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell promptly condemned the measure in a message issued late Friday morning.
“Ninety percent of Americans are worried about inflation, but House Democrats just voted to let Washington D.C. print, borrow, and spend trillions more," McConnell said.
“Our economy is shaky, but House Democrats just voted for historic tax hikes that would drain hundreds of billions of dollars out of U.S. industries and kill American jobs," he continued.
“House Democrats pay lip service to economic fairness, but they just voted for a plan that combines tax hikes for the middle class with massive tax cuts for blue-state millionaires. In 2023, their plan would give net tax cuts to fewer than 4% of families who make between $50,000 and $100,000, but to more than 67% of households making between $500,000 and $1 million," McConnell pointed out.
“‘Moderate’ Democrats pretended to care about deficits and budget gimmicks. But even though nonpartisan referees had to swallow most of the Democrats’ dishonest accounting tricks, they still proved this bill is not paid for. It would increase the national debt by about $800 billion just over the first five years, just as families are fighting inflation. But the ‘moderates’ fell in line anyway."
The vote comes after Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke for a record-setting 8-1/2 hours starting late Thursday night in remarks cataloging a list of Republican grievances — some related to the bill and some not — while at times shouting over Democrats in the House who were openly dismissive.
In a dig at McCarthy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began her speech supporting the bill by saying "As a courtesy to my colleagues, I will be brief."
"Much has been said on this floor. But the facts are these: following the vision of President Biden, guided by the expertise and energy of our chairs, members and staff, we have a Build Back Better bill that is historic, transformative and larger than anything we have ever done before," Pelosi said. "If you are a parent, a senior, a child, a worker, if you are an American, this bill’s for you, and it is better.”
It also follows the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that the bill would raise federal budget deficits by $367 billion over 10 years, but that additional revenues from improved Internal Revenue Service tax collections could generate a net increase in revenues of $127 billion through 2031.
The White House estimates the IRS changes will generate $400 billion in additional revenue and says the bill overall will reduce deficits by $121 billion over a decade.
Several moderate Democrats said they needed the CBO's assessment before they would vote, and several of them said they accepted the White House's math.
The legislation follows the $1 trillion infrastructure investment bill that Biden signed into law this week — two key pillars of the Democratic president's domestic agenda — and a separate $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that passed in March.
The vote on U.S. President Joe Biden's $2 trillion social spending bill has been delayed until Friday in the House of Representatives, after Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave an hours-long, circuitous speech.
The vote was originally scheduled for Thursday evening after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan arbiter, released a cost assessment of the bill, which several moderate Democrats said they needed before they would vote.
But the vote was delayed until 8 a.m. on Friday after McCarthy spoke — and often seemed to stray — from a thick binder of prepared remarks for more than four hours, at times shouting over Democrats in the House who were openly dismissive of his obstruction.
Democrats in the House were attempting to advance Biden's $1.75 trillion domestic investment bill, despite the CBO's finding that it would add to the deficit.
"If I sound angry, I am," he said as the speech began.
“I’m just getting geared up; go just sit,” he said several hours later. At another point, he said, “I know you don’t like me, but that’s OK."
"I've had enough. America has had enough," McCarthy added in a speech that cataloged a list of Republican grievances, some related to the bill and some not.
Dozens of Republicans, some sitting directly behind McCarthy, urged him on. Democrats on the other side booed, and some tweeted snickering replies.
“Loved it,” said Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., the brother of former Vice President Mike Pence. “This is a historical moment for Kevin, for sure.”
McCarthy broke House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's own speechmaking record just before 5 a.m. Friday. He ended around 5:10 a.m.
The House voted 220-211 to approve the rule for debating the measure, clearing the way for a vote on passage later in the night. No Republicans supported the move.
McCarthy was only occasionally interrupted by Democrats.
Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described it in a video posted on social media as "one of the worst, lowest-quality speeches" she had ever seen.
"It is stunning to me how long a person can talk (while) communicating so little," she said.
Earlier, the CBO said the legislation would increase federal budget deficits by $367 billion over 10 years, although it acknowledged that additional revenues could be generated through improved Internal Revenue Service tax collections.
The CBO estimated that the new tax enforcement activities would generate a net increase in revenues of $127 billion through 2031. The White House estimates the changes will generate $400 billion in additional revenue and said the bill overall will reduce deficits by $121 billion over a decade.
Several of the moderate Democrats who had wanted to see the CBO "score" before voting said they accepted the White House's math.
"We put in the work and look what we got — a Build Back Better Act that’s fully paid for, reduces the deficit and helps American families," said Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux. "Now it’s time to pass it."
Representative Stephanie Murphy said she had reservations about the size of the legislation but there were "too many badly needed investments in this bill not to advance it in the legislative process."
If passed, the bill would be in addition to the more than $1 trillion infrastructure investment legislation that Biden signed into law this week.
The new bill provides free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, boosts coverage of home-care costs for the elderly and disabled, significantly lowers the cost of some prescription drugs such insulin, expands affordable housing programs and increases grants for college students.
The two measures comprise the twin pillars of Biden's domestic agenda and would be on top of the $1.9 trillion in emergency coronavirus pandemic aid that Biden and his fellow Democrats pushed through Congress in March over a wall of opposition from Republicans.
Democrat House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the bill "transformational," adding that its success "will be measured in the deep sense of hope that Americans will have when they see their economy working for them instead of holding them back."
Republicans have vowed to withhold their support, leaving Democrats to employ a special "budget reconciliation" procedure that would allow them to ram the legislation through the Senate with a simple majority vote, instead of at least 60 votes in the 100-member chamber normally needed to advance measures.
Republican Representative Guy Reschenthaler said the bill will worsen inflation and hand tax breaks to the wealthy. He labeled it "the Democrats' big government socialist spending spree."
In addition to funding expanded social programs, the bill provides $550 billion to battle climate change.
If it passes the Democratic-controlled House, it would go to the Senate for consideration, where two centrist Democratic members have threatened to hold it up. Senators are expected to amend the House bill. If so, it would have to be sent back to the House for final passage, possibly around the end of December.
Democrats have a 221-213 majority in the House and can only afford to lose three Democratic votes on the bill since no Republicans are expected to vote for it. One Democrat said on Thursday evening he intended to vote against it, due to tax breaks that would favor rich Americans.
Material from the Associated Press the Reuters news services was used in this story.
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