Thursday, December 9, 2021
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House Democrats pass sweeping social spending, climate policy package

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(WASHINGTON) — After months of wrangling, House Democrats managed a big win Friday, passing their roughly $1.75 trillion social and climate spending package despite a Republican effort to delay the final vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wearing white, announced the passage of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better Act,” with the vote falling largely along party lines at 220-213.
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As the count crossed the threshold to pass, Democrats on the floor applauded and chanted “Build Back Better!” and “Nancy! Nancy!”

“If you’re a mom, a dad, a family caregiver or the rest — this bill is for you,” Pelosi said in a news conference minutes later. “If you care about the planet and how we pass it on to our children, this bill is for you.”

The social spending measure would generate the largest expansion to the social safety net in 50 years and contains $555 billion for climate and clean energy investments. It would:

  • reduce the cost of some prescription drugs
  • extend the child tax credit
  • provide universal pre-kindergarten for 3-and 4-year olds
  • allow four weeks of paid family and medical leave
  • build affordable housing
  • expand Medicare coverage
  • create “clean energy” jobs

Biden called Pelosi from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where is undergoing a physical, including a routine colonoscopy, to congratulate her.

“Above all, it puts us on the path to build our economy back better than before by rebuilding the backbone of America: working people and the middle class,” Biden said in a statement. “For the second time in just two weeks, the House of Representatives has moved on critical and consequential pieces of my legislative agenda,” he said.

Now that it’s passed the House, the Senate is expected to amend the proposal in the coming weeks after the Thanksgiving recess as Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have not committed to the package in its current form.

Rep. Jared Golden of Maine was the only Democrat to oppose the package, signaling opposition to a provision to raise the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes that could benefit high-earning homeowners. Democrats could afford to lose three votes and still pass the legislation. Not a single Republican supported it.

Since Democrats plan to pass the measure through reconciliation, a lengthy budget process that would not require them to have any Republican support since Democrats have a narrow majority in both chambers, the legislation — months in the making — still has a long way to go, including back to the House, before it would even hit Biden’s desk.

Overnight, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., took to the floor for more than eight hours to rail against the bill and Democrats’ agenda, breaking a record previously held by Pelosi for longest House floor speech, knocking Democrats off their plans to approve the measure late Thursday evening, in a show to his conference that he’s fighting for the GOP on his quest to become speaker.

“I know some of you are mad at me and think I have spoken too long, but I’ve had enough. America has had enough,” he said, rallying his conference after a week of intraparty tensions over his leadership as the party seeks to recapture the House.

When Pelosi took the floor on Friday morning ahead of a full floor vote, she took a swipe at McCarthy’s lengthy speech.

“As a courtesy to my colleagues, I will be brief,” she said, wearing an all-white suit to mark the occasion. Pelosi said Democrats are “proud to pass this legislation under President Joe Biden.”

Earlier Thursday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the total Democratic package would add $160 billion to the national deficit over the next 10 years, an assessment requested by some moderate Democrats ahead of any vote to send the Build Back Better Act to the Senate.

Democratic leaders, progressives and most moderates have rallied around the package they said would make historic investments in fighting climate change, lower prescription drug prices, expand Medicare coverage and provide universal pre-kindergarten.

“Those of us who serve on this date will be able to tell our children and grandchildren we were there when the Congress passed one of the most transformational bills in the history of the Congress,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on Thursday.

Republicans, meanwhile, assailed Democrats over the scope and cost of the package — given Biden’s initial pledge that it would cost “zero dollars” — and predicted it would further fuel inflation ahead of Thanksgiving.

Speaking through the night on the House floor, McCarthy repeatedly likened Biden to President Jimmy Carter, the one-term Democratic president who presided over inflation and rising gas prices in the late 1970s. Republicans repeatedly said Democrats were overstating their mandate from the 2020 election and argued that a Republican victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race earlier this month signaled unease with Democrats’ spending plans.

“Nobody elected Joe Biden to be FDR,” McCarthy said.

“I did!” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., shouted.

The tone of floor debate was acrimonious, with tensions between Republicans and Democrats still running high after Democrats voted to censure Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for posting a provocative cartoon video showing him killing Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Biden.

McCarthy was heckled repeatedly by Democrats over the course of his speech, and lawmakers shouted at each other from across the chamber.

“No one’s listening!” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, shouted at McCarthy at one point.

As Republicans and Democrats flitted in and out of the chamber and wandered around to stretch their legs, McCarthy riffed on everything from foreign policy and not being able to afford a Tesla, to the 1984 film “Red Dawn” and China’s development of hypersonic missiles. He also lamented that former President Donald Trump did not win a Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the Abraham Accords.

Democrats mocked McCarthy’s speech on social media, while Republicans cycled in and out of the chamber to fill the seats immediately behind the California Republican in a show of support.

Pelosi at a press conference on Thursday expressed confidence that with control of Congress hanging in the balance ahead of the midterm elections less than a year away, Democrats will be able to successfully sell their work to the American people — and do so more effectively than they did in 2010 after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, due, in part, to Biden using the “bully pulpit.”

Democratic members of Congress are also planning to hold 1,000 events before the end of the year to make clear to Americans what’s in Biden’s infrastructure plans.

“The messaging on it will be immediate, and it will be intense, and it will be eloquent, and it will make a difference,” Pelosi said.

Giving remarks in Woodstock, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, Biden endorsed Pelosi’s timeline to pass part two of his infrastructure agenda this week.

“I’m confident that the House is going to pass this bill. And when it passes, it will go to the Senate,” Biden said. “I think we’ll get it passed within a week.”

McCarthy blasted Pelosi at his press conference on Thursday and said the reconciliation bill will “be the end of their Democratic majority.”

While the already-passed bipartisan infrastructure law itself and its individual components — rebuilding and repairing bridges, ports and roads, expanding broadband internet, and more — are widely popular, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Americans aren’t giving Biden credit for championing the law and getting it through Congress. The president’s approval rating is at an all-time low at 41%.

Pelosi on Thursday tried to defend Democrats’ “Build Back Better” proposal from criticism over a key tax provision that has angered some in the caucus. Some moderates and leading progressives have criticized plans to undo a cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deductions — a reversal of Republicans’ 2017 tax law — popular in California, New York and New Jersey, given that the change would benefit wealthy suburban property owners.

The change would allow taxpayers to deduct up to $80,000 in state and local taxes from their federal tax returns after Republicans imposed a $10,000 cap on federal deductions four years ago.

A recent analysis from the Tax Policy Center found the SALT cap increase would primarily benefit the top 10% of income-earning Americans. About 70% of the tax benefit would go to the top 5% of earners, who make $366,000 a year or more, the analysis said.

“That’s not about tax cuts for wealthy people. It’s about services for the American people,” Pelosi said. “This isn’t about who gets a tax cut, it’s about which states get the revenue they need to help the American people.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her briefing Thursday that the White House was “comfortable” with the SALT cap increase being included in the version of the “Build Back Better” bill on which the House is expected to vote — but she wouldn’t say the president’s excited it.

“This is a part of the bill that the president — that has been proposed, that is important to key members, as you all know,” Psaki said. “That’s why it’s in the package. The president’s excitement about this is not about the SALT deduction. It’s about the other key components of the package. And that’s why we’re continuing to press for it to move forward.”

ABC News’ Trish Turner and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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