Speaker Pelosi celebrates passage of Build Back Better
Speaker Pelosi celebrates the passage of Build Back Better Act (Photo: Speaker's office)

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.”

Speaker Pelosi celebrates passage of Build Back Better
Speak­er Pelosi cel­e­brates the pas­sage of Build Back Bet­ter Act (Pho­to: Speak­er’s office)

“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!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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