House moves toward OK of Dems’ sweeping social, climate bill
WASHINGTON — A divided House moved toward passage Thursday of Democrats’ expansive social and environment bill as new cost estimates from Congress’ top fiscal analyst suggested that moderate lawmakers’ spending and deficit worries would be calmed, moving President Joe Biden closer to a badly needed victory.
Final debate on the long-delayed legislation came after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill would worsen federal deficits by $160 billion over the coming decade. It also recalculated the measure’s 10-year price tag at $1.68 trillion, though that figure wasn’t directly comparable to a $1.85 trillion figure Democrats have been using.
House approval would ship the legislation to the Senate and end — though just for now — months of battling between Democrats’ progressives and moderates over its costs and policies. While significant Senate changes are likely due to cost-cutting demands by moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., House passage would edge Biden closer to winning more of his domestic priorities at a time when his public approval is faltering badly.
The 2,100-page bill’s initiatives include bolstering child care assistance, creating free preschool, curbing seniors’ prescription drug costs and beefing up efforts to slow climate change.
“Too many Americans are just barely getting by in our economy,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “And we simply can’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic.”
Final passage, expected in late evening, was delayed indefinitely as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke for over two hours criticizing the legislation, Biden and Democrats. Democrats sporadically booed and groaned and McCarthy glared back, underscoring partisan hostility only deepened by this week’s censure of Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for threatening tweets aimed at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
McCarthy, who hopes to become speaker if Republicans capture the chamber in next year’s elections, recited problems the country has faced under Biden, including inflation, large numbers of immigrants crossing the Southwest border and the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Yeah, I want to go back,” he said in mocking reference to the “Build Back Better” name Biden uses for the legislation.
House rules do not limit how long party leaders may speak. In 2018, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — who was minority leader at the time — held the floor for over eight hours demanding action on immigration.
Key figures estimates of the bill’s costs by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office aligned closely with earlier figures from the White House. That included tax credits to spur clean energy development, bolstered child care assistance and extended tax breaks for millions of families with children, lower-earning workers and people buying private health insurance.
The measure would provide $109 billion to create free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. There were large sums for home health care for seniors, new Medicare coverage for hearing and a new requirement for four weeks of paid family leave. The family leave program, however, was expected to be removed in the Senate, where it’s been opposed by Manchin.
In one major but expected difference, CBO estimated that by spending $80 billion to beef up IRS tax enforcement, the agency would collect $207 billion in new revenue over the coming decade. That meant net savings of $127 billion, well below the White House’s more optimistic $400 billion estimate.
In a scorekeeping quirk, CBO formally estimated that the legislation would drive up federal budget deficits by $367 billion over the coming decade. The agency’s budget guidelines technically require it to not count IRS savings when measuring a bill’s deficit impact.