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The House passes a $2 trillion spending bill, but braces for changes in the Senate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a Friday news conference with other Democratic leaders after House passage of the Build Back Better Act.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a Friday news conference with other Democratic leaders after House passage of the Build Back Better Act.

Updated November 22, 2021 at 7:55 PM ET

The House voted on near-party lines Friday morning to approve a roughly $2 trillion social and climate spending package, ending months of squabbles among Democrats over the details of the far-reaching measure.

The vote was 220-213, with one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, joining all Republicans in opposition.

The legislation is meant to fulfill many of President Biden's promises during the 2020 campaign, including plans to address climate change and provide a stronger federal safety net for families and low-income workers.

"We have the Built Back Better bill that is historic, transformative and larger than anything we have ever done before," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on the House floor. "If you're a parent, a senior, a child, a worker, if you are an American ... this bill's for you and it is better."

House Democrats overcame internal divisions over the cost and scope of the spending package, but the fight will continue as the bill heads to the Senate for revisions.

The vote was delayed after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke all through the night — for more than eight hours. His speech decried Democrats' spending plans, but also veered to subjects including China and border security.

"Never in American history has so much been spent at one time," he said. "Never in American history will so many taxes be raised and so much borrowing be needed to pay for all this reckless spending."

Biden praised House passage of the bill, noting it was the second time in two weeks that the chamber moved two "consequential" pieces of his legislative agenda, referencing the new infrastructure law. He described the vote as a "giant step forward in carrying out my economic plan to create jobs, reduce costs, make our country more competitive, and give working people and the middle class a fighting chance."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks during his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

What's in the measure

The legislation includes:

  • $550 billion to address climate change through incentives and tax breaks;
  • funding to extend the expanded, monthly child tax credit for one year;
  • housing assistance, including $150 billion in affordable housing expenditures;
  • expansions to Medicaid and further assistance to reduce the cost of health care premiums for plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act;
  • four weeks of paid family and medical leave;
  • funding for universal pre-K for roughly 6 million 3- and 4-year-olds;
  • a provision to allow Medicare Parts B and D to negotiate prices directly with drug manufacturers on certain drugs and cap out-of-pocket spending for seniors at $2,000 per year;
  • a $35 cap on monthly insulin expenses.
  • The spending is mostly offset with taxes on the wealthy and corporations, including:

  • a 5% surtax on taxpayers with personal income above $10 million, and an additional 3% added on income above $25 million;
  • a 15% minimum tax on corporate profits of large corporations that report more than $1 billion in profits;
  • a 1% tax on stock buybacks;
  • a 15% minimum tax on foreign profits of U.S. corporations.
  • House Democrats unite after months of fighting

    Moderate Democrats ultimately voted for the legislation after concerns that estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office would show the measure to be more costly than leaders have projected.

    Ultimately, the CBO found the bill would cost the federal government $367 billion over the next decade, "not counting any additional revenue that may be generated by additional funding for tax enforcement." Many Democrats, including the White House, argue that when that is taken into account, the measure would pay for itself.

    Members of the fiscally moderate New Democrat Coalition endorsed the legislation ahead of the final cost estimates. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., said the official estimates don't take into account extra revenue from increased tax enforcement — or the broader economic benefits of the legislation.

    "When discussing the importance of the bill, we also have to talk about the costs that would be incurred if we don't pass this bill," Schneider said on a call with reporters. "The cost of inaction is simply too high, and it can only be headed off if we act now."

    For progressive Democrats, the vote fulfills a promise from Biden and House leaders not to neglect policies that have energized the left wing of their party. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus set aside major demands throughout the negotiations, including more spending and plans for aggressive changes to the nation's health care system, in order to reach an agreement that satisfied the full caucus.

    Senate hurdles could drag on for weeks

    The House vote is just the latest step in a lengthy process that will almost certainly involve further changes to the bill.

    Centrist Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have each expressed concerns about the House version of the legislation. Manchin is particularly opposed to a provision that would provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave for most workers. Sinema's objections are less clear but Democrats need both lawmakers on board in order for the legislation to pass.

    It is unclear how long it would take for senators to work out their disagreements and finalize the legislation. Once that work is done, the Senate would have to start a lengthy process to vote on the bill using the budget reconciliation process that would allow the bill to be passed in the Senate with 50 votes, rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislation.

    Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that Senate staff have already completed a necessary step to ensure the legislation meets the basic requirements to avoid a Republican filibuster. But the process still has several steps, including a series of unlimited amendment votes known as a vote-a-rama.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Corrected: November 22, 2021 at 12:00 AM EST
    An earlier version of this story mistakenly said the bill includes a 50% minimum tax on foreign profits of U.S. corporations. It is a 15% tax.
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