House Democrats Pass $1.7 Trillion Biden Spending Bill. What's Next?
Budget

House Democrats Pass $1.7 Trillion Biden Spending Bill. What's Next?

REUTERS/ALEXANDER DRAGO

President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats took a big step toward enacting their economic agenda on Friday morning as the House narrowly approved the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act, the party’s sweeping package of climate, education and health care programs financed by higher taxes on some corporations and top-earning individuals.

The massive bill, running nearly 2,500 pages long, represents the most significant bolstering of the nation’s social safety net in years — including a health care expansion and measures to lower drug prices alongside provisions for universal pre-kindergarten, child care, elder care, paid leave and more.

“We have a Build Back Better bill that is historic, transformative and larger than anything we have ever done before,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a speech before the vote, adding, “If you are a parent, a senior, a child, a worker, if you are an American, this bill – this bill is for you.”

The vote came after weeks and weeks of often tense and tenuous negotiations between Democratic centrists and progressives — and it could be followed by more of the same, as the bill now heads to the evenly divided Senate, where it may still undergo substantial changes as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) or others exert their leverage and Democrats try to lock in the support of all 50 of their members.

Democrats have already pared back what started out as a $3.5 trillion plan, scrapping or downsizing proposals to provide two years of free community college, add dental and vision coverage to Medicare and extend an expanded Child Tax Credit for four years. They also did away with plans to raise the corporate tax rate and top marginal rates on individuals, among other proposals, instead turning to a 15% minimum corporate tax and surtaxes on individuals making more than $10 million a year.

Yet for all the intraparty drama surrounding the legislation in recent months, the 220-213 vote in the House saw only one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, vote against the package.

Republicans, meanwhile, remained unified in opposition. Democrats had intended to hold the vote Thursday evening, but they were forced to delay it until the morning after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) held the floor with a rambling, record-setting eight-and-a-half-hour speech blasting the Democratic bill as “the single most reckless and irresponsible spending in the history of this country” and veering off into a variety of other topics that The New York Times said “sounded like a Mad Libs of Republican attacks.”

What’s next: The Build Back Better bill still has a long way to go, and some of its most popular provisions — such as the expansion of paid family and medical leave — could still be stripped out by the Senate. The House plan to temporarily raise the annual cap on the deductibility of state and local taxes from $10,000 to $80,000 also faces pushback, and an immigration reform proposal could be ruled out by the Senate parliamentarian. Senate changes would the require the revised bill to again pass the House.

The bottom line: Democrats should have a path to eventual final passage, though, which would mark another landmark legislative achievement for Biden. Then he and his party will still have to sell the American public on their accomplishments. “I hope the Senate passes this very quickly. But then the big work is to get out there and get it done, actually implement it and talk about it and let people know what's coming,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Even then, because many of the provisions in the bill were made temporary as part of efforts to reduce their official cost, lawmakers may still be dealing with them and debating their reauthorization for years to come.

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