The House of Representatives on Friday passed President Joe Biden’s $1.85 trillion Build Back Better Act, sending the measure to the Senate, where major hurdles could significantly change, or even halt, the legislation.
The vote came much later than intended.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, stopped Democrats from passing the bill as they intended on Thursday when he commandeered the floor with a speech lasting more than eight hours in which he denounced the spending legislation along with the entire Democratic agenda.
Democrats passed the bill unilaterally following McCarthy's all-nighter and after weeks of negotiations with party centrists who forced the measure to be cut nearly in half in cost and size.
Despite the changes, House Democrats celebrated the measure as transformative and critical to helping working-class families struggling with the high cost of living.
House Democratic leaders had scheduled a vote on the bill for Thursday night, which would have then allowed lawmakers to jet off to a weeklong Thanksgiving recess and events including fundraisers.
But those plans were stalled by McCarthy's overnight speech. The California Republican set a new record for the longest House floor speech, utilizing a tradition in the chamber that allows party leaders to speak for unlimited periods of time.
McCarthy began speaking at 8:38 p.m. on Thursday and did not yield the floor until 5:10 a.m. on Friday. McCarthy acknowledged his desire to be "competitive" and beat Speaker Nancy Pelosi's record. The California Democrat had set the House floor speech longevity record in February 2018 when, as minority leader, she delivered an eight-hour, seven-minute stemwinder on the need to legalize "Dreamers," who arrived here illegally as children.
McCarthy's speech surpassed Pelosi's run by about 25 minutes, but it ultimately did not stop Democrats from passing the measure, which is intended to serve as the critical cornerstone of President Joe Biden's long-stalled economic agenda.
The Build Back Better Act would provide many families with free preschool and help taking care of the elderly or disabled, as well as paid family leave. It would extend the enlarged child tax credit and expand subsidies for health insurance policies through Obamacare.
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The bill also includes significant tax credits for clean energy, meant to help limit carbon emissions.
“The name refers to the broad recognition that too many Americans are just barely getting by in our economy, and we simply cannot go back to the way things were before the pandemic,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat. “This bill is truly for the people.”
Still, Democrats face a number of challenges in getting the bill through the Senate.
The Senate parliamentarian must complete an analysis of the House-passed bill to ensure it conforms to the rules of a budgetary tactic Senate Democrats plan to use to pass the legislation with 51 votes instead of the usual 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
The House measure includes a provision that would help millions of illegal workers remain in the United States even though the Senate parliamentarian has rejected other efforts to add immigration policy to the bill.
The bill must also meet the approval of skeptical centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Manchin told reporters this week he’s worried the high cost of the bill will prolong or worsen inflation that is hitting his constituents hard.
He’s also opposed to the paid leave provision in the House bill, arguing the country cannot afford a new entitlement when Social Security and Medicare are on shaky financial footing.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, told reporters he plans to bring up the bill before Christmas.
If the Senate makes changes, the House will have to take up the Senate-passed bill and accept the modifications that are likely to rankle liberals.
The legislation makes up half of Biden’s economic agenda.
Earlier this week, the president signed into law a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure.
Party lawmakers are hoping passage of the social welfare bill will allow them to raise sagging poll numbers by promoting its provisions.
A new poll Thursday found Biden’s approval ratings have sunk to a new low of 36%.
The bill includes new tax increases and tax enforcement through 80,000 new IRS agents that will bring in revenue to pay for some of the measure.
Republicans unanimously voted against the bill and railed against the measure during a brief floor debate ahead of the final vote, arguing the measure is irresponsible and out of touch with a nation concerned with inflation that economists warn will get worse with additional federal spending.
The GOP honed in on a provision in the bill that would lift a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, a change that will disproportionately benefit wealthy taxpayers in blue states.
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Republicans pointed out the measure also includes a methane fee, which they said will raise the cost of natural gas.
“Everyone who heats their homes with natural gas this winter are going to pay 30% more,” said Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican. “And for what? To give tax breaks to millionaires in five states.”