In recent months, it was hard not to wonder whether the Democrats' Build Back Better Act would ever receive a vote. The party struggled with lengthy, and at times bitter, negotiations over practically every aspect of the legislation, from the price tag to the included provisions to how to pay for the package.
What's more, the schedule did not inspire optimism. Democratic leaders hoped to advance the bill before the August recess. And then maybe the end of September. Or perhaps Halloween.
But this morning, after months of unglamourous and difficult negotiations, the party actually had some success. NBC News reported:
The Democratic-controlled House passed sweeping legislation Friday aimed at expanding the social safety net and tackling climate change, a major step that moves a top legislative priority of President Joe Biden closer to his desk. The House voted 220 to 213 to pass Biden's Build Back Better bill, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in opposing the measure.
Oddly enough, this bill would've passed last night, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy delivered the longest floor speech in recorded House history, which may have inadvertently done Democrats a favor: Instead of passing a big bill in the middle of the night, the governing majority was able to advance their popular legislation, live on television, in the light of day.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chaired the proceedings and banged the gavel at 9:46 a.m. eastern. As she exited the dais, the California Democrat was greeted by celebrating colleagues who chanted, "Nancy! Nancy!" as she walked through her assembled colleagues.
The bill now heads to the Democratic-led Senate, where members are all but certain to make at least some changes to the bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intends to hold a final floor vote by Christmas, at which point the House will almost certainly have to vote again.
Because the Build Back Better legislation is being pursued through the budget reconciliation process, it cannot be filibustered by the Republican minority. It can, however, be derailed by Democratic senators such as West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema.
For now, however, Democrats have reason to feel good about today's breakthrough success. Congress considers all kinds of legislation, ranging from awful to great, but it's not at all common for lawmakers to take up transformative legislation.
The Build Back Better Act — the largest part of President Joe Biden's ambitious domestic agenda — qualifies for the label. Among its key provisions:
- Universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year olds
- Funding for child care for roughly 20 million kids
- An extended and expanded Child Tax Credit
- Extended subsidies to make Affordable Care Act coverage more affordable
- Closes the Medicaid coverage gap in red states, pushing the country closer to universal coverage
- New benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, including caps on annual out-of-pocket prescription drug costs
- Housing aid, including rental assistance, public housing, and down-payment support
- A significant increase in Pell Grants
- A half-trillion-dollar investment to combat climate change, including massive clean energy tax credits
This really is just a sampling. I could keep going, pointing to investments in child nutrition, V.A. facilities, recruiting and training school teachers, electric vehicles for the U.S. Postal Service, and on and on.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the benefits in this legislation will be life-changing for millions of families. And after this morning, it's one big step closer to becoming law.
Postscript: The bill passed by the House also includes provisions related to paid leave and immigration, but I didn't include them on the list because they're unlikely to survive in the Senate's version.