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House returns to consider Biden's safety net and climate bill

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy held the floor for more than eight hours with a speech railing against the legislation and Biden's policies.
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WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives returned to finish consideration of President Joe Biden's sweeping safety net and climate package on Friday morning after Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy delayed the vote with a meandering, sometimes angry, speech that broke a House record for its length.

McCarthy, who began speaking at 8:38 p.m., brought his marathon speech to an end at around 5:04 a.m. to cheers and applause from House Republicans. He had long since crossed the eight-hour mark and broken a record set by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for the longest speech on the House floor.

Pelosi gaveled back into session to close out debate shortly after 8 a.m. with a dig at McCarthy: "As a courtesy to my colleagues, I will be brief." Democrats are anticipating a vote later Friday morning.

“With the passage of the Build Back Better Act, we, this Democratic Congress, are taking our place in the long and honorable heritage of our democracy, with legislation that will be the pillar of health and financial security in America," she said. "It will be historic in forging landmark progress for our nation.”

McCarthy criticized the bill as reckless and inveighed against Biden's presidency overall. He also discussed unrelated matters like the Southern border, Afghanistan policy, recruitment of police officers, poll numbers and the problem with "one-party rule."

A senior Democratic aide told NBC News that McCarthy was “welcome to continue his raving as late into the night as he wants. The House will return and vote first thing Friday morning so the American people know heading into Thanksgiving week that House Democrats are fighting with President Biden to Build Back Better.”

Some Democrats live-tweeted their criticisms of the speech. McCarthy at times was heckled on the floor but insisted he would continue.

At one point, he quoted Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., saying Americans didn't elect Biden to be FDR, to which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., interrupted and yelled, "I did!"

McCarthy added he could wait for Democrats to stop talking. "Keep going," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, yelled back. "No one is listening."

Shortly before McCarthy began speaking, the House voted 220-211 along party lines to advance the sweeping legislation to a final vote after the Congressional Budget Office released a cost estimate of the bill, which centrist Democratic lawmakers had demanded before proceeding with the measure.

The CBO estimate unlocked support from key holdouts and projected that the nearly $1.7 trillion package would add $160 billion to the deficit over the next decade, after accounting for taxes and savings to finance it.

While the budget office estimated that savings from beefed-up IRS enforcement would boost revenue by $207 billion, the Treasury Department projected it would be $400 billion.

"A particularly salient aspect of the revenue raised by the legislation is a historic investment in the IRS to crack down on high-earners who avoid paying the taxes that they owe, which Treasury estimates would generate at least $400 billion in additional revenue," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement Thursday, arguing that the Build Back Better Act is "fully paid for."

The White House has been priming Democratic lawmakers for that discrepancy. If the Treasury estimate were swapped in, the bill would be paid for, satisfying a demand of moderates. Key centrists like Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., have said they believe the Treasury projection is more accurate.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a previous holdout, said Thursday she would vote for the bill.

"Despite its flaws, the Build Back Better Act has a lot of positive elements," she said, adding that "as a pragmatic Democrat who wants to deliver for my constituents, I am never one to let the perfect become the enemy of the good."

Democratic leaders began debate on the floor Thursday evening, aiming to pass the bill that night. Shortly after midnight, and almost four hours into McCarthy's floor speech, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced that the House would not hold the final vote that evening.

The legislation calls for spending on a variety of Democratic priorities, from health care subsidies to clean energy. It would give the government the power to negotiate prices for certain medicines, subsidize child care and extend cash payments for most parents with children under 18.

One of the key Democratic holdouts in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, was seen at the White House on Thursday before the CBO estimate was released. He was in attendance for Dr. Rahul Gupta’s swearing in as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Earlier this week, Biden visited Detroit to promote the recently enacted infrastructure law and made the case for passing the social safety net bill.

Speaking from a General Motors plant that was renovated to build electric trucks and SUVs, Biden said Wednesday that his legislative agenda would not add to inflationary pressures and argued that his Build Back Better plan would make a "gigantic difference" for households by lowering the costs of child and health care.

On Monday, Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $7.5 billion to build a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations aimed at helping speed consumer adaptation of clean vehicles, and $6 billion for low- or no-emission transit vehicles.