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House passes Biden's $1.7 trillion social safety net and climate package

The Build Back Better bill now heads to the Senate, where it’s likely to undergo some changes in order to win the support of all 50 Democratic-voting members.
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WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House passed sweeping legislation Friday aimed at expanding the social safety net and tackling climate change, a major step that moves a top legislative priority of President Joe Biden closer to his desk.

The House voted 220 to 213 to pass Biden's Build Back Better bill, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in opposing the measure.

Cheers erupted on the House floor after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the bill passed, followed by chants of "Nancy" by Democrats.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is hoping for a vote before Christmas. The Senate is expected to make some changes in order to win the support of all 50 Democratic-voting members and comply with arcane budget rules. That will mean another vote in the House will be likely before the bill can become law.

The legislation includes a monthly per-child cash payment of up to $300 for most parents, child care funding, universal pre-K, an extension of Affordable Care Act subsidies and Medicare hearing benefits. It also commits $555 billion toward combating climate change, the largest such effort in U.S. history.

The bill would be financed by tax increases on upper earners and corporations, more IRS enforcement and prescription drug savings by empowering Medicare to negotiate prices for certain medications.

Pelosi took a victory lap at a press conference after the vote, flanked by other House Democratic leaders. She expressed confidence that the legislation will ultimately go to Biden’s desk after the House and Senate reconcile their differences.

"We'll be telling our children and grandchildren that we were here this day,” she said.

“This is legislation that create millions of good paying jobs, gives tax cuts to the middle class, lowers costs, especially health care costs and childcare costs for the middle class, and is paid for 100 percent," she continued.

House Democrats had hoped to vote on the bill two weeks ago but a group of five centrist Democrats held it up over demands for a full cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, which released its analysis on Thursday and unlocked the votes from the holdouts.

The CBO estimated that the bill would cost $1.68 trillion over a decade while raising $1.27 trillion in revenue, with an extra $207 billion boost through tougher IRS enforcement.

Overall, the CBO projected the legislation would add $160 billion to the long-term deficit. But moderate Democrats were placated by Treasury Department estimates that said added IRS enforcement would yield larger savings of roughly $400 billion and fully pay for the spending package.

In a lengthy speech that delayed the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., blasted the legislation as the "most reckless and irresponsible spending bill in our nation's history."

He said Biden's agenda was even bigger than the New Deal and that "never in American history has so much been spent at one time."

"If I sound angry, I am," said McCarthy, who spoke for more than three hours, drawing jeers from several Democrats in the process.

In response to the speech, Pelosi said Friday, “I don't even listen to most of the speeches on the other side because they're not fraught with meaning or fact" and said she “barely noticed” that he broke her record for longest House floor speech.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, the crafting of the bill exposed deep divisions between moderates and progressives, with centrists consistently pushing to lower the price tag and strip out several provisions championed by liberals.

Some components of the bill are likely to change in the Senate, where Democrats have 50 votes and can't afford any defections.

A provision in the House bill guaranteeing paid leave is opposed by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and is at risk of being stripped out. An expansion of the state and local tax deduction from $10,000 to $80,000 faces resistance from some senators, while immigration policies allowing legal status for young "Dreamers" and others may run afoul of budget rules.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters this week the Senate will aim to pass the bill before Christmas.

"The House has taken an important step to advance Build Back Better to cut middle-class taxes; invest in child care, universal pre-K, affordable housing; lower Rx costs; fight climate change; create jobs; more," Schumer wrote on Twitter after the vote.

The House vote came two weeks after Congress cleared an infrastructure package that boosts spending to $1.2 trillion for highways, roads, bridges, broadband expansion and other projects. Earlier this year, Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to provide Covid-19 relief and stimulate the economy.

If the Build Back Better legislation makes it to Biden's desk, it will complete a legislative trifecta totaling nearly $5 trillion in approved new spending in less than a year — which Biden, Pelosi and Schumer see as important to their legacies.