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Build Back Better vote eases Democratic tensions, raises McCarthy's profile

Progressives, centrists and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy all scored victories with Friday's vote.
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WASHINGTON — Progressives celebrated a giant step toward expanding the social safety net. Centrist Democrats secured some top legislative demands. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy won plaudits from conservatives for a lengthy floor speech that delayed passage of the Build Back Better Act.

From a political perspective, all sides had something to crow about after Friday’s largely party-line vote on the $1.7 trillion spending package.

For Democrats, tensions between progressives and moderates subsided after months of infighting over policy and procedural differences relating to the safety net and infrastructure bills.

Progressive fears that a faction of centrists, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., was scheming to sink the Build Back Better legislation proved unfounded. Liberals for months prevented passage of the $550 billion infrastructure bill to use as leverage before eventually relenting two weeks ago, when the House passed the bipartisan measure. Centrists in turn voted for the larger bill shortly after they received the cost estimate they wanted from the Congressional Budget Office.

And with their votes, Gottheimer and others in the group secured a major policy priority in the bill by raising the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, established by Republicans in 2017, to $80,000. The cap hits residents of high-tax states like New York and New Jersey the hardest.

For some New Jerseyans, it was personal. The state sends more money to the U.S. Treasury than it receives in federal funding, and the deduction cap widened that disparity by limiting residents' tax deductions.

Gottheimer, co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, celebrated the provision after the House vote.

Progressives, meanwhile, were elated that the House passed a dramatic expansion of the social safety net — including universal pre-K and money for child care, housing and health care — and approved record spending to combat climate change.

"This historic Build Back Better Act delivers on our promise to provide transformative investments in working people across America that will allow them to wake up feeling differently about their daily lives and the opportunities their families have," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., progressive caucus chair.

McCarthy, for his part, used the occasion to shine a spotlight on the House bill, delivering a speech spanning 8 hours and 32 minutes that delayed a planned Thursday evening vote and broke a record previously held by Speaker Nancy Pelosi for longest floor speech.

The lengthy remarks by the California Republican attacked numerous aspects of Biden’s presidency and "one-party rule" by Democrats in Washington. He called the opposition party reckless and spendthrift in a speech that provided a smorgasbord of red meat to the Republican base and covered an array of unrelated topics from Elon Musk to Afghanistan policy.

McCarthy appeared to have reached his audience.

On Friday afternoon, former President Donald Trump released a statement praising the minority leader: "Great job by Kevin McCarthy last night, setting a record by going over 8 hours of speaking on the House Floor in order to properly oppose Communism," he said.

McCarthy's top priority is to win back control of the House from Democrats next year and become speaker, a goal that will likely require help from Trump and his supporters. He won praise from some staunch Trump allies, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., after his speech.

At the end of the night, some Democrats cheekily thanked McCarthy for drawing attention to a bill that remains popular with the U.S. public in polls, even as Biden's job approval rating has taken a hit.

The drama surrounding the vote gave some rank-and-file members a new opportunity to garner attention on the national stage.

Seconds before the vote on passage was announced, Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., took to the House floor to announce several Republican proxy votes, and declared that she's voting "hell no" on the bill, dubbing it "Build Back Broke."

"And good luck in the Senate," she said.

Moments later, Pelosi was asked to respond to McCarthy breaking her record for longest speech.

"No, I barely noticed," she quipped before pivoting back to celebrating the contents of the legislation.