House Democrats pushed back a vote on President Joe Biden’s plan to dramatically expand the social safety net after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stalled floor action with a record-breaking marathon speech that stretched into the early hours of Friday morning.
McCarthy, a Republican from California, started his speech at 8:38 p.m. ET, and stopped speaking early Friday morning after eight hours and 32 minutes, making his remarks the longest House floor speech in history.
The sweeping $1.9 trillion economic legislation stands as a key pillar of Biden’s domestic agenda and Democrats are still confident they have the votes to pass the bill later Friday morning. The House is slated to reconvene at 8 a.m. ET. The legislation would deliver on long-standing Democratic priorities by dramatically expanding social services for Americans, working to mitigate the climate crisis, increasing access to health care and delivering aid to families and children.
McCarthy was able to hold the floor indefinitely under the procedures of the House, which say the majority leader and the minority leader get what’s called a “Magic Minute” at the end of floor debate, meaning they can speak for as long as they want. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used a similar tactic as minority leader in 2018, speaking for more than eight hours on the House floor in a speech about young undocumented immigrants, the previous record for a floor speech.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer explained the delay by saying McCarthy wants to force passage of the bill “in the dead of night,” a politically charged description that has been used to criticize legislation in the past.
“We are going to do it in the day,” Hoyer said.
Once the legislation passes the House, it will face key hurdles in the Senate, with a fight looming over a controversial tax provision and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia still not on board.
As a result, Democrats are working hard to keep their fragile coalition of moderates and progressives united behind the package. The legislation has already been the subject of intense disputes between warring party factions in the House, and Democrats have no margin for error in the Senate.
The legislation will likely have to be altered, potentially significantly, to get every member of the Senate Democratic caucus to vote for it as key members raise major concerns with the contents of the bill.
What’s in the legislation
The Build Back Better Act represents a central part of Biden’s policy agenda and an attempt by congressional Democrats to go it alone without GOP support to enact a major expansion of the social safety net.
The House and Senate recently passed, and Biden then signed into law, a separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which marked a major legislative achievement for both parties.
The Build Back Better Act is an effort by Democrats to build on that investment in traditional infrastructure by making extensive investments to ramp up social programs and address the climate crisis.
Among its many provisions, the legislation would create a universal pre-K program, extend the enhanced child tax credit and expand access to health care, affordable housing and home care for seniors.
The Congressional Budget Office released its final scoring for the bill early Thursday evening, estimating that the package “would result in a net increase in the deficit totaling $367 billion over the 2022-2031 period, not counting any additional revenue that may be generated by additional funding for tax enforcement,” according to a summary.
The White House worked to make the case that the bill will be fully paid for, despite the CBO analysis showing a shortfall.
Senior White House officials Brian Deese and Louisa Terrell met with moderate House Democrats after the numbers were released, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The CBO’s analysis score does not include revenue from tighter IRS enforcement. The CBO estimated earlier that would raise $207 billion.
The White House argues that increased IRS enforcement would actually raise more than what the CBO projects, meaning the bill would be fully paid for in their estimate.
Obstacles ahead in the Senate
In a warning sign for the party, Manchin, the most important swing vote who has expressed major concerns over a variety of elements of the bill, told CNN on Thursday that he has not decided whether to support voting to proceed to the Build Back Better bill, the critical first vote to take up the measure in the Senate. Any one Democratic defection would stall the effort.
“No,” Manchin said when asked if he had made a decision to vote to proceed. “I’m still looking at everything.” The comments reflect that Manchin is still not on board with the legislation and signal the tough road ahead for Democrats.
The West Virginia Democrat said that he wants to see the final numbers from the Congressional Budget Office and changes made to the bill. “I just haven’t seen the final, the final bill. So when the final bill comes out, CBO score comes out, then we’ll go from there,” he said.
Manchin also reiterated his concerns about inflation. “Everyone’s concerned, they should be concerned about inflation, because it’s real. Inflation is real,” he said. “So we got to make sure we get through this the best we can, and put no more burden on them.”
A fight is also brewing over a controversial tax provision that some progressives have decried as a giveaway to the rich.
Earlier this month, House Democrats came to an agreement to deal with state and local tax deductions after Democrats from the Northeast and West Coast had pushed to loosen the caps imposed by the 2017 tax law. Under the SALT deal, deductions would be capped at $80,000 per year over a nine-year time span.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, on Thursday railed on the House provisions dealing with the state and local tax deductions, calling it “wrong” and “bad politics.”
“Democrats correctly have campaigned on the understanding that amidst massive income and wealth inequality, we’ve got to demand that the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes, not give them more tax breaks,” Sanders said.
“So what I can tell you is I am working with a number of Democrats who share that concern, and I hope as soon as possible to come up with a plan. But bottom line is we have to help the middle class and not the one percent.”
Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of Maine announced ahead of the final House vote that he would vote against the bill, citing the tax provision.
“Many of my colleagues argue this major line item is worth accepting to pass the rest of the bill,” Golden said in a statement to the Bangor Daily News. “I disagree: the SALT giveaway in the Build Back Better Act is larger than the child care, pre-K, healthcare or senior care provisions of the bill.” Golden did not rule out voting for the final package in the future.
Pelosi defended the legislation against criticism that wealthy Americans will benefit disproportionately as a result of the provisions.
“That’s not about tax cuts for wealthy people. It’s about services for the American people,” she said earlier in the day.
“This isn’t about who gets a tax cut. It’s about which states get the revenue that they need in order to meet the needs of the people, and that is a fight that I will continue to make.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Friday.
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