Washington, 19 November 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Democrats in the US House of Representatives on Friday approved sweeping measures to strengthen the nation’s social safety net programs and to respond to the climate crisis.
The passing of the bill in the House was a sorely needed show of progress for President Biden’s legislative agenda even as it faces more hurdles. The bill passed 220 to 213, with support from all but one Democrat and no Republicans.
Their attempt to pass the bill Thursday night was foiled by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who held control of the House floor by speaking for more than eight and a half hours, preventing a vote from occurring until Democratic leaders finally decided to reschedule it for Friday morning.
The House Republican leader used his speech to attack the bill, Democrats and Biden’s agenda. He spoke continuously from 8:38 p.m. Thursday until 5:11 a.m. Friday, beating the record for the longest House floor speech set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2018.
The surprise last-minute hitch capped months of delays and negotiation among House Democratic moderates and progressives, Senate Democrats and the White House over the bill. During that time, the total price tag was halved to roughly 1.7 trillion dollars, and some of its most progressive policies were cut or trimmed to win the support of centrists.
Still, the social spending bill — which Democrats call “Build Back Better” — would advance numerous priorities that progressives have been seeking for years, including expanding Medicare coverage to include hearing aids, allowing the federal government to negotiate some Medicare drug prices, implementing universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and providing child-care subsidies for most Americans.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., called it “the most consequential legislation for American families since the New Deal,” promising that it will “overhaul and reimagine entire sectors of our economy and society so that everyone, not just those at the top, will benefit from a growing economy.”
But that overhaul — as well as the cost — has drawn strong rebukes from Republicans.
“This is an absolute disgrace,” Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) said of the bill. He said some provisions being considered, such as paid family leave and reinstating part of the federal deduction on state and local taxes, would benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. “It will change America as we know it.”
McCarthy said he thinks that the policy is so unpopular, Democrats could lose over 63 seats in next year’s midterm election if they enact it.
“For the first time in the country,” McCarthy said, previewing his party’s midterm election messaging, “this generation doesn’t believe they’ll be better off than the generation before them. This bill almost guarantees it. They’re guaranteed they’re going to have to pay more and get less.”
His speech, which aroused support from his fellow Republicans, came as McCarthy was facing questions about his leadership from some members of his caucus, including allies of President Trump like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, for not punishing members of his party who supported Biden’s infrastructure bill.
After passage in the House, the current bill will go through a gantlet in the Senate, where it will likely be changed, perhaps significantly, to get the support of all 48 Senate Democrats and the two independents. House Democrats would then have to vote again, which could push final passage into late December.