WASHINGTON – A cranky House handed President Joe Biden a landmark victory on Friday by approving a roughly $ 2 trillion social and environmental bill, as Democrats put aside disputes that for months had stalled the measured and hampered efforts to sell their priorities to voters.
Lawmakers approved legislation 220-213 like all Democrats, but one supported it, overcoming unanimous Republican opposition. The measure is now heading to the Senate, where changes are certain and disputes between cost-conscious moderate Democrats and progressives seeking bold policy changes will erupt again.
For now, Democrats were happy to shake off a discouraging period of off-year electoral setbacks, Biden poll numbers, and public discontent with inflation, stalled supply chains and the pandemic. . All of this and the party’s ugly internal bickering left voters with no idea how the legislation could help them, polls have shown.
“Most of all, it puts us on track to rebuild our economy better than before by rebuilding America’s backbone: working people and the middle class,” Biden said in a statement.
He told reporters at the White House that he expected the legislation to “take a while” to get through the Senate, but said: “I will sign it. Period.”
The legislation, among the most expensive in years, is remarkable for its scope. It rewrites fiscal, health, environmental, education, housing and other policies, supporting low and middle income families, helping the elderly and fighting climate change.
Most of it would be paid for by tax increases on the country’s top earners, the biggest companies and companies doing business abroad. This includes new surcharges for people earning more than $ 10 million a year and a minimum corporate tax.
Because of its size, scope, and status as a symbol of what Democrats stand for, each party believes the package will help in next year’s midterm elections, when Republicans have a solid chance to win. take control of the House and the Senate.
“Hey, hey, goodbye,” sang GOP lawmakers, taunting Democrats during the vote. Republicans are calling the move a waste of money that will worsen budget deficits, overheat an inflation-plagued economy and show voters that Democrats cannot resist an ever-larger government.
Democrats see the 2,100-page legislation as belated and lasting help for a large part of the nation.
The bill “will be the backbone of health and financial security in America,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “If you are a parent, a senior citizen, a child, a worker, if you are an American, this bill is for you.”
“Build back better,” chanted Democrats, hugging and jumping for joy outside the room as the call ended. This is the name Biden gave the bill – a complement to his other national priority, the bipartisan $ 1 trillion package of broadband, road and other infrastructure projects that he enacted this past. week.
In the latest dose of partisan bitterness from Congress, minority parliamentary leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Delayed the expected approval of the latest bill on Thursday when he sparked an eight-hour rant. Minutes against the legislation, the president and the Democrats.
McCarthy watched Democrats boo and growl during what has become the longest speech in House history, remarks that included personal slurs directed at Pelosi. As the minority leader in 2018, she held the previous record, speaking for eight hours and seven minutes on immigration.
“I don’t know if this is a farewell tour,” McCarthy said of Pelosi’s recent trips to Europe, who some believe may be serving his last term in Congress. “If so, I want a T-shirt.”
Most of the costs of the bill come from mountains of new spending, although there are also hundreds of billions in tax credits to encourage certain goals.
It has more than $ 500 billion for clean energy projects as well as tax incentives for utilities switching to cleaner fuels and people buying electric vehicles. There is money for child care, vocational training, housing, free nursery school for 3- and 4-year-olds, home care for the elderly and new hearing benefits for older people. Medicare beneficiaries.
People, and the government too, would save money with new restrictions on prescription drug prices, though the provisions were modest compared to the more stringent requirements that most Democrats preferred. There would be extended tax credits for families with children, for some low-income workers, and for people who buy private health coverage.
In language that has helped gain the support of lawmakers in high-cost coastal states, the bill would increase the federal deductions people can take for state and local taxes. The provision, which would greatly benefit the rich, would cost more than $ 220 billion over the next five years, making it one of the most expensive programs in the legislation.
The measure would also fund a new requirement of four weeks of paid family leave and create temporary work permits so that millions of immigrants can stay in the United States for up to a decade. The two face an uncertain fate in the Senate.
This chamber’s 50-50 split and the GOP’s strong opposition give every Democrat a veto right. Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., who helped lower the cost of the 10-year bill from its previous $ 3.5 trillion, opposed the family leave provision. And the Senate parliamentarian enforces rules that make it difficult to include onerous political provisions like major changes to immigration law.
The bill would worsen the already huge projected budget deficits by $ 160 billion over the next decade, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said. That would be higher, except for the $ 207 billion in additional tax revenue expected by boosting IRS spending on audits, largely from the wealthy.
Both sides are selectively worried about deficits. Republicans passed tax cuts in 2017 that worsened red ink by $ 1.9 trillion, while Democrats enacted a COVID-19 relief bill this year with the same price tag.
Representative Jared Golden of Maine, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, was his party’s only no vote.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan organization in favor of budget restraint, estimated that the bill would cost nearly $ 5,000 billion if Democrats had not made some temporary arrangements to be more affordable. For example, child tax credits are only extended for one year, although Democrats would make them permanent if they could.
AP Congress correspondent Lisa Mascaro and AP writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.
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