“Too many Americans are just barely getting by in our economy,” said Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, before the vote. “And we simply can’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic.”
“Nobody elected Joe Biden to be FDR,” McCarthy declared at one point.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office derided McCarthy speech as a “temper tantrum,” accusing him of making “unhinged claims” about the bill.
“I did,” Ocasio-Cortez shouted.
After months of fits and starts, gridlock and intra-party warring, party leaders said Democrats were finally on track to pass their package of social and climate initiatives, just two weeks after the chamber gave final approval to a separate effort investing in the nation’s aging infrastructure.
But final passage of the measure was delayed by McCarthy, who used his leadership privileges to rail furiously against the legislation, the administration and the Democratic party for more than three hours. As he spoke, some Democrats taunted and jeered, underscoring the deep animosity between the two political parties a day after the censure of congressman Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona who shared a video depicting himself killing congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and threatening Biden.
Democrats proceeded to a vote following the release of a cost estimate from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, as requested by a band of centrist Democrats with concerns about the legislation’s impact on the federal deficit.
The analysis found that the bill would spend $1.7tn over ten years, increasing the deficit by $367bn over the same span of time. The score did not include estimates of Democrats’ plans to raise revenue by increasing enforcement of federal tax laws.
The budget office separately predicted that boosting funding for the Internal Revenue Service by $80bn would raise $207bn in revenue, shrinking the deficit to $160bn over 10 years. The estimate was far less than the $400bn the White House said would be raised by tougher IRS enforcement. With the analysis complete, the treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, said in a statement that “Build Back Better is fully paid for” and would ultimately reduce the country’s debt by enacting “reforms that ask the wealthiest Americans and large corporations to pay their fair share”.
The package is ambitious: it aims to dramatically reduce childcare costs, provide universal pre-kindergarten for children, lower the cost of prescription drugs for seniors, expand Medicare to cover hearing aids, extend work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants and provide the largest-ever investment in efforts to combat the climate crisis. The House version of the legislation also includes four weeks of paid family and medical leave, though the provision faces opposition from Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat of West Virginia. With a paper-thin majority, Democrats can spare only a handful of defections on the package.
Pelosi had twice attempted to bring the spending plan to the floor for a vote, only to see those plans unravel amid a standoff between progressives and moderates over Biden’s double-barreled legislative agenda. A truce brokered by the president and the Congressional Black Caucus helped secure the passage of a sprawling public works bill and paved the way for Friday’s vote. Two of the Senate’s 50 Democrats, Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have not yet committed to supporting the package, even as negotiators reshaped the climate and tax portions of the package to meet their demands.
“It’s a hell of a bill,” he said. Democrats and Republicans sparred on the House floor over the economics of the plan. Republicans assailed it as reckless spending that would exacerbate the trend of rising inflation and slow economic growth. Democrats argued the opposite, that the bill would actually combat inflation while relieving many of the financial stressors Americans face, such as the cost of childcare and prescription drugs.
Opening the House floor debate on Thursday, Democrats touted the historic nature of the legislation. Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chair of the House budget panel, which played a critical role in shaping the package, said any single element of the bill by itself would be significant, but together they represented the “most consequential legislation for American families since the New Deal”. “This was like a Rubik’s cube, trying to get all the different provisions together,” Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas said at a press conference highlighting the immigration reforms contained in the bill. “You move one piece and there’s a constituency or a caucus in the House or Senate that is unhappy.”