This morning, the House of Representatives voted almost along party lines to pass the centerpiece of the Biden-Harris 2021 legislative agenda, sending it to the United States Senate for further consideration.
At 6:44 AM Pacific, by a vote of 220–213, the House adopted H.R. 5376, known as the Build Back Better Act, after Biden’s campaign slogan, with all but one Democrat in favor and all Republicans opposed. The House had originally been slated to vote last night, but top House Republican Kevin McCarthy used his “magic minute” speaking privileges to stage an eight hour talking filibuster.
(The “magic minute” refers to the ability of the House Speaker, House Majority Leader, or the House Minority Leader to stretch a minute-long speech on the House floor into a speech lasting any amount of time.)
McCarthy ceased filibustering shortly after 2 AM Pacific.
A few hours later, the vote commenced successfully.
“I thank Speaker Pelosi and the House leadership and every House member who worked so hard and voted to pass this bill,” said President Joe Biden.
“For the second time in just two weeks, the House of Representatives has moved on critical and consequential pieces of my legislative agenda.”
“Now, the Build Back Better Act goes to the United States Senate, where I look forward to it passing as soon as possible so I can sign it into law.”
“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, which – with legislation that will be the pillar of health and financial security in America,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “It will be historic in forging landmark progress for our nation. We talk about history as we look and prepare for the future.”
“Much has been said since the distinguished Democratic leadership spoke last evening. Much has been said on this Floor. But the facts are these: following the vision of President Biden, guided by the expertise and energy of our Chairs, Members and staff, we have a Build Back Better bill that is historic, transformative and larger than anything we have ever done before. We are Building Back Better.”
“If you are a parent, a senior, a child, a worker, if you are an American, this bill – this bill is for you, and it is better – it’s better in terms of health care. It’s better if you are a senior, your cost at the pharmacy will be cut to a fraction, with annual costs capped under Medicare Part D, annual benefit from the Medicare hearing benefit. It’s better if you have diabetes: when you go to the pharmacy, instead of paying hundreds for insulin, you’ll pay no more than $35 per month.”
“Because of Democrats, millions of kids will not have to live in poverty, seniors will have the health care they deserve at lower costs, and families and small businesses will have what they need to thrive,” said DNC Chair Jaime Harrison. “Because of Democrats, our economy will be stronger and working Americans, no matter their background or where they come from, will once again be a priority.”
“Americans elected President Biden and Democrats because they wanted a government that works for them, and leaders who would roll up their sleeves and get things done. While Democrats are stepping up and delivering for the American people, every single House Republican showed that they only care about their extreme, obstructionist agenda. While Democrats will spend 2022 highlighting how Democrats delivered, Republicans will have to answer to their constituents why they oppose lower health care costs and prescription drug prices, child care funding, and taking on the climate crisis.”
“The Build Back Better Act represents an incredible opportunity to address the greatest existential threat of our time – climate change – while creating good-paying, unions jobs and building a sustainable, resilient economy,” said Representative Adam Smith. “This bill is the largest investment to combat climate change that our nation has ever seen, with massive investments in clean energy and zero-emissions technology. The Biden-Harris Administration and Democrats in Congress have committed to making climate change a top priority and this legislation follows through on that commitment.”
“As a mom and pediatrician, I’ve seen firsthand the urgent need for a historic investment in middle class families to ease the growing burdens they are facing. That’s why I am delighted that the Build Back Better Act not only makes significant investments in America’s future, it lowers costs for working families by extending the monthly Child Tax Credit, capping the cost of child care, and setting every child up for lifelong success with universal preschool,” said Representative Kim Schrier.
“This bill will also make health care more affordable for Washingtonians by capping prescription drug costs for seniors, lowering premiums for people who buy insurance on their own, and stopping drug companies from price gouging.”
“When we invest in women, families, and caregivers, we power an economic recovery that benefits all of us,” said Representative Marilyn Strickland. “With the Build Back Better Act, Congress will deliver life-changing benefits for families in the South Sound and across our nation — all without adding to the national debt. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to join me and vote in favor of this transformational bill that will address housing, lower health care costs, affordable child care and in-home care, education, climate change and much more.”
To pass in the Senate, the bill will need to get the votes of every member of the Senate Democratic caucus, including Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
The bill, which is being considered under Congress’ reconciliation rules to prevent Senate Republicans from filibustering it, will be subjected to the Senate amendment procedure known as vote-a-rama, which is when a flurry of amendments are considered in rapid succession for a long period of time.
If all Senate Republicans are present, the bill will need Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote to return to the House of Representatives. (The Senate isn’t expected to leave the bill unchanged, so it will need to return to the House.)
Harris has already cast thirteen tiebreaking votes so far this year, and could be casting several more before the Build Back Better Act gets to Biden’s desk.
There are a lot of pro-family, pro-housing, pro-jobs, pro-climate investments in the Build Back Better bill. For example, the legislation:
- provides for paid family and medical leave at the federal level
- increases Pell Grants
- makes preschool universally available
- expands apprenticeship opportunities
- appropriates funds to fight pollution in disadvantaged communities
- lowers the cost of prescription drugs
- permanently extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- bolsters pandemic preparation and public health research
- adds money for programs like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- helps communities implement next generation 9–1‑1 services
Republicans have denounced the bill as big socialism without bothering to specifically criticize what’s in it — probably because they know that what’s in it are priorities Americans really, really, really want. They have spent years happily voting for gargantuan tax cuts and bloated defense spending bills that contain even more money for the military than requested by the Pentagon.
But now, they simply cannot bring themselves to vote for a bill that will invest $2 billion in rural rental housing projects, or $1.7 billion for agricultural education, or $100 million for repair and rehabilitation of rural homes.
They rail against “big government,” but the truth is, they actually love big government. It just has to be the right kind of big government.
The CIA, the FBI, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the NSA, and many lesser-known agencies are all part of the federal government, and Republicans have been happy to make them bigger while leaving other agencies bereft of resources to support the needs of the people of the United States.
The reality is that a country of hundreds of millions of people cannot effectively be served by a small government. It is not the size of government that’s important; it’s how effective it is. As progressives, we believe that government should be as effective as possible. The investments in this Build Back Better bill will raise Americans’ quality of life and help us catch up to where other advanced democracies have been for years. This legislation is historic, and sorely needed.
We are proud of Representative Pramila Jayapal and the Congressional Progressive Caucus for using their leverage to get this bill into concrete form and passed off the House floor. There is still the hurdle of getting through the Senate, but we’re so much closer to having the Biden-Harris Jobs & Families plan signed into law than we were back in the summer. Onward and forward!