Hours-Long Speech by GOP Leader Delays House Vote on Build Back Better Bill

(WASHINGTON) — Democrats brushed aside months-long divisions and approached House passage of their expansive social and environment bill Friday, as President Joe Biden and his party neared a defining win in their drive to use their control of government to funnel its resources toward their domestic priorities.

Although final passage had been anticipated for Thursday night, it was delayed by Kevin McCarthy, R. Calif. Minority Leader, who held it up with an hour-long broadside critical of Biden and Democrats as well as the bill. The chamber was abandoned by most Democrats after midnight. McCarthy was still speaking and House Majority leader Steny Hoyer (D.Md.), told reporters that the leaders had planned to move Friday.
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House approval could still be expected with a close vote of the parties. That would send the measure to a Senate where cost-cutting demands by moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and that chamber’s strict rules seemed certain to force significant changes. It will cause new disagreements between the moderates of each party, likely to take many weeks.

Even so, House passage will mark a turning point for a measure that is remarkable in the depth and breadth of its impact on federal policy. There were many changes to taxation, housing, energy and climate change that were incorporated into the bill. That underscored 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.

“Too many Americans are just barely getting by in our economy,” Hoyer said. “And we simply can’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic.”

House passage would allow Biden to experience a brief taste of victory during his most turbulent period as a president. 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.

Biden has signed this week a $1 trillion package to fund highway and other infrastructure projects. This was another priority, which overcame months worth of Democratic fighting. These days, the president has been promoting this measure throughout the country.

McCarthy spent more than five hours standing up, sometimes shouting and rasping hoarsely. Democrats sporadically booed and groaned as McCarthy glared back, underscoring partisan hostility only deepened by this week’s censure of Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for threatening tweets aimed at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

McCarthy, who hopes to become speaker if Republicans capture the chamber in next year’s elections, recited problems the country has faced under 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 Biden uses for the legislation.

The House Rules do not restrict the time party leaders can speak. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader, was able to hold the floor for more than eight hours in 2018 demanding that immigration reform be addressed.

After the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office stated that the package would increase federal deficits by $160billion over the next decade, the House moved toward a final vote. 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 beefing up efforts to slow climate change. Tax credits are included to encourage clean energy development. They also include bolstered childcare assistance, tax credits for families with children and tax breaks that extend tax relief for people who buy private insurance and lower-earning workers.

The majority of this would be covered by tax hikes on big companies, the wealthy and businesses doing business overseas.

It would give $109 billion in funding to free preschool education for children aged 3 and 4. It includes substantial sums to pay for elderly home healthcare, Medicare hearing coverage and the requirement of four weeks paid family leave. The family leave program, however, was expected to be removed in the Senate, where it’s been opposed by Manchin.

The language allows for the government to issue work permits to millions. This would permit them temporarily stay in the U.S., while $297 million in savings could be realized by letting government reduce prescription drug cost. 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.

In one major but expected difference with the White House, CBO estimated that the bill’s added $80 billion to beef up IRS tax enforcement would let it collect $207 billion in new revenue over the coming decade. That meant net savings of $127 billion, well below the White House’s more optimistic $400 billion estimate.

CBO estimated that federal deficits would increase by $367B over the next decade in an unusual scorekeeping technique. But agency guidelines require it to ignore IRS savings when measuring a bill’s deficit impact, and it acknowledged that the measure’s true impact would worsen shortfalls by $160 billion when counting added revenue the IRS would collect.

Biden and other Democratic leaders stated the measure would be financially sustainable, in large part through higher taxes on big companies, the wealthy and foreign-based businesses.

Both sides worry selectively about deficits. Republicans approved tax cuts that made red ink worse by $1.9 trillion in 2017, while Democrats passed a COVID-19 relief bill with the same price tag.

Republicans claimed that the new legislation would harm the economy and give tax breaks for some wealthy taxpayers, as well as make the government more intrusive and larger. One provision increasing the federal tax deduction limit for state and local taxes is drawing frequent GOP criticisms. It disproportionately aids high-income coastal residents.

Democrats seemed eager to close the deal after months of negotiations and start selling it back home. They said they were planning 1,000 events across the country by year’s end to pitch the measure’s benefits to voters.

Facing uniform Republican opposition, Democrats could lose no more than three votes to prevail in the House, but moderates seemed reassured by CBO’s figures. While some said that projections regarding IRS savings were always uncertain, others stated that the bill does not need to pay roughly half-trillion dollars for cleaner energy because of global warming.

Florida Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a leading centrist, said she would back the measure after the latest numbers showed the legislation “is fiscally disciplined” and “has a lot of positive elements.”

Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote gives Democrats control of the 50-50 Senate. The Democrats now have zero votes left, giving Manchin enormous leverage during the upcoming negotiations. The altered bill would have to return to the House before going to Biden’s desk.

The nonpartisan 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. The party wants tax credits that are permanent for children and those with low incomes to continue for a year.


Report by Farnoush Almiri and Lisa Mascaro (AP Congressional Correspondent)


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