What Will the Senate Do with the Build Back Better Bill?

Buried in the graveyard of Democrats’ early hopes for the sweeping social and environmental spending bill that passed in the House of Representatives Friday morning is more than $1.5 trillion in spending that would have changed millions of Americans’ lives.

Over months of negotiations, numerous provisions were excised to make the legislation more palatable for the party’s two most centrist Senators: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes the bill depends on to become law.

Among the Democrats’ wishlist items that didn’t survive negotiations and the rule-making process were proposals to provide Americans with two years of free community college, expansions of Medicare to include dental and vision benefits, and a pathway towards citizenship for undocumented individuals. Also, plans for lower prescription drug costs and 12 weeks of family and paid medical leave were drastically reduced.
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“I’m looking at the glass half full, actually three quarters full,” Congressman Sanford Bishop, a Georgia Democrat, told TIME in the Speaker’s Lobby Thursday night. “I’m not looking at what’s not in it. I’m looking at what is in it for the American people.”

But with the Build Back Better bill now on its way for another round of negotiations in the Senate, it’s still likely that the bill will be altered or whittled down further before it reaches President Joe Biden’s desk.

Learn More The House Just Passed Biden’s Build Back Better Bill. Here’s What’s In It

The Senate’s deliberations will once again revolve around Manchin and Sinema, who have already signaled they don’t support every item in the House’s bill. Also, the Senate Parliamentarian will make her final decisions on what parts of the bill can be passed through reconciliation. This requires only a simple majority in the Senate, rather than the two thirds required for non-budgetary bills. However, it must also meet certain requirements.

Here are four components of the House’s bill that are at risk in the Senate.

Family leave paid

Initial plans by the White House, most Democratic lawmakers to implement a paid vacation policy offered 12 weeks paid leave to full-time employees for births or adoptions of children or for qualifying medical events. According to CBS/YouGov polls, nearly three-quarters of Americans supported the provision. However, the paid leave policy was originally cut from the $1.75 billion Build Back Better framework released by the White House in October. This was after Manchin stated that he opposed the inclusion paid leave in the bill.

In early November, however, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a reversal: She said that a watered down version of paid leave—four weeks rather than 12—would be included in the House bill text despite Manchin’s opposition.

Manchin’s view hasn’t shifted. He has expressed support for paid leave but does not believe it should be passed through reconciliation. “I just think it’s the wrong place to put it because it’s a social expansion,” he said after paid leave was added back to the House’s bill.

House Democrats are aware that paid leave will not survive the Senate markup on Build Back Better. They have stated they will try to get paid leave passed outside of reconciliation, possibly in a separate bill. “This is something important. If it is not done now, it still needs to be done,” says Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Delaware Democrat. “I’m supportive of it, if it [happens] now or later, but not too much later.”

Taxes (SALT), higher in the state or localities

House bill increases significantly the limit on state and local taxes that individuals may deduct from federal taxes. It is now $10,000 to $80,000. This increase in the amount Americans are allowed to claim is most beneficial to homeowners who live in wealthy states such as New Jersey, New York, and California. They have enough income to be able to deduct that much tax liability.

SALT changes would cost approximately $475 billion over five years. Some progressives, like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, have expressed displeasure with the House’s proposal, which does not put an income cap on who can benefit from the higher SALT deduction limit. “I am open to a compromise approach which protects the middle class in high tax states,” Sanders said in a November statement. “I will not support more tax breaks for billionaires.”

Sanders and Democratic New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez propose imposing a maximum income limit of $550,000 on those who are eligible for a SALT deduction. Since all 50 Democrats need to be in agreement to pass the legislation, these two Senators alone could hold up the bill’s passage if their SALT concerns are not addressed. They aren’t the only ones who still think about the provision. “I still have some concerns. There are a lot of people in Virginia who would benefit from SALT,” Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said Thursday. “Some of these discussions are active and I’m waiting to see how they unwind.”

Union-made electric vehicles qualify for tax credits

One component of the $550 Billion Democrats have allocated for climate action seems at risk: A provision providing people who own electric vehicles with a fully deductible $7,500 tax credit.

Car dealers can take the credit for the purchaser of the vehicle. Dealers could then deduct the tax discount from the initial sticker price. But the bigger problem is that Americans who buy a vehicle from an American factory with union-represented workers will receive an additional $4500 in tax credits. This boon for companies such as Ford or General Motors who fulfill these criteria. But Toyota, which has a manufacturing presence in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, could lose out because people who buy electric vehicles from the Japanese carmaker would only qualify for the $7,500 base credit.

“This can’t happen. It’s not who we are as a country. It’s not how we built this country, and the product should speak for itself,” Manchin said in November, according to Automotive News. “We shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers… Hopefully, we’ll get that… corrected.”

Immigration reform

The highest proportion of Americans ever believing that the nation should make it simpler to migrate to America is one-third. Since 1986, America hasn’t passed major immigration reform. To change this, Democrats tried to reconcile the Senate to avoid the requirement for a two-thirds vote to pass other forms of legislation.

It was originally intended to establish a legal pathway for millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the United States. Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a non-elected official who determines what would sufficiently affect the budget to be included in a reconciliation bill, thwarted this attempt, assessing that such a provision would equate to a “tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.” Democrats’ Plan B, offering undocumented migrants who entered the country before 2010 a pathway to green cards, was also blocked by MacDonough.

The Build Back Better text is a narrower approach to immigration reform. It allows undocumented migrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally prior to 2011 to be granted renewable employment authorizations and protects them against deportation for five years. “This has been such a challenging journey this year, trying to get a pathway to citizenship into the reconciliation bill,” Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat, said at a Thursday press conference. “What we are left with, very likely, is work permits and protections. And I will tell you, while that is absolutely inadequate, we have to get that across the goal line.”

It’s not clear they will. While Sinema said she supports the current package’s immigration proposals, she also acknowledged there are “legal limitations to what can be done in a reconciliation package.” Manchin told Fox News in November that he generally did not support changes to immigration policy that were not accompanied by enhanced border security. “For us to even be talking about immigration without border security is ludicrous,” he said.

Sinema or Manchin may agree to the bill, but the fate of 7 million immigrants who could qualify under the policy for parole might still be blocked by Parliamentarians if they conclude that the measure doesn’t have enough effect on the budget.


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