by Alan Fram
WASHINGTON (AP) – A horrified US House handed President Joe Biden a landslide victory Friday by approving a nearly $2 trillion social and environmental bill, as Democrats stoked controversy that stymied the measure for months. and hindered efforts to sell their preferences to voters.
Lawmakers approved the 220-213 law as did every Democrat, but one supported it, unanimously overcoming Republican opposition. The measure now goes to the Senate, where changes are certain and cost-conscious Democratic moderates and those seeking progressive policy changes will flare up anew.
For the moment, Democrats were happy to shake off a gloomy period of off-year election setbacks, Biden over poll numbers and public discontent over inflation, stalled supply chains and the pandemic. All this and the party’s sordid internal squabbles have left voters with little idea of how the law can help them, as the polls have shown.
“Most of all, it puts us on the path to making our economy better than ever by rebuilding America’s backbone: the working people and middle class,” Biden said in a statement.
He told reporters at the White House that he expected the legislation to take “a while” to move through the Senate, but declared, “I will sign it. Period.”
The law, the most expensive in years, is notable for its accessibility. It rewrites tax, health care, environmental, education, housing and other policies, connects low- and middle-income families, helps the elderly, and combats climate change.
Much of this would be paid for with tax increases on the nation’s highest-grossing, largest corporations and companies doing business abroad. This includes new surcharges and the corporate minimum tax on people earning more than $10 million annually.
Because of its size, scope and emblem for Democrats, each party thinks the package will help in next year’s midterm elections, when Republicans have a solid chance of seizing House and Senate control.
“Hey, hey, goodbye,” sang GOP lawmakers taunting Democrats during the vote. Republicans call the measure a waste of money that will worsen the budget deficit, heat up an inflation-battered economy and show voters that Democrats can never oppose a big government.
Democrats see the 2,100-page law as overdue and long-lasting help for a large part of the country.
The bill “will be a pillar of health and financial security in America,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. “If you’re a parent, a senior, a child, an employee, if you’re an American, this bill is for you.”
“Build back better,” chanted the Democrat, hugging and jumping with glee at the front of the chamber as the roll call wound up. That’s the name Biden has given the bill – a companion piece to his other domestic priority, the bipartisan $1 trillion package of broadband, road and other infrastructure projects he signed into law this week.
In the latest dose of Congressional partisan bitterness, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Thursday delayed expected approval of the latest bill when he dropped an eight-hour 32-minute diatribe against the law, the president and Democrats.
McCarthy posed as a Democrat and shouted and screamed during the longest speech in the history of the House, remarks that included personal insults aimed at Pelosi. As minority leader in 2018, he beat the previous record on immigration by eight hours and seven minutes.
“I don’t know if this is a farewell tour,” McCarthy said of recent trips to Europe by Pelosi, who some think could serve his last term in Congress. “If that’s the case, I want a T-shirt.”
Most of the bill’s cost comes from mountains of new spending, although some also have hundreds of billions in tax credits to encourage those targets.
It has more than $500 billion for clean energy projects and tax incentives for utilities to buy less polluting fuel and electric vehicles. There’s money for child care, job training, housing, free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, in-home care for seniors, and new hearing benefits for Medicare recipients.
The people, and the government, too, would save money from the new restrictions on the prices of prescription drugs, although the provisions are modest compared to the tougher requirements most Democrats liked. There will be an expanded tax credit for families with children, for some low-income workers, and for people who purchase private health coverage.
In language that would help it win support from lawmakers in high-cost coastal states, the bill would increase the federal deduction that people can take for state and local taxes. The provision, which would largely benefit rich earners, would cost more than $220 billion over the next five years, making it one of the law’s most expensive programs.
The measure would also fill a new requirement for four weeks of paid family leave and create temporary work permits so that millions of immigrants could stay in the US for a decade. Both face an uncertain fate in the Senate.
That chamber’s 50-50 split and solid GOP opposition give every Democrat a veto power. Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.VA, who helped reduce the bill’s 10-year cost from its earlier $3.5 trillion, has opposed the family leave provision. And Senate lawmakers enact rules that make it difficult to incorporate policy-heavy provisions like major immigration law changes.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will increase the already projected budget deficit to $160 billion in the coming decade. This would largely leave the $127 billion in additional tax collections estimated by increasing IRS spending to audit the wealthy.
Both parties are concerned about selective losses. Republicans passed tax cuts in 2017, leaving $1.9 trillion in red ink, while Democrats enacted a COVID-19 relief bill with the same price tag this year.
Jared Golden of Maine, one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress, was not the only vote from his party.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan organization that supports fiscal constraints, estimated that if Democrats didn’t make some provisions temporary to be more affordable, the bill would cost about $5 trillion. Will be For example, tax credits for children are extended for only one year, even though Democrats would make them permanent if they could.
AP Congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro and AP writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.