Over the last several weeks, I've heard from several Capitol Hill sources who've asked why I haven't written more about the substantive details of the Democrats' Build Back Better agenda. Sure, it's easy to get caught up in the fight over $3.5 trillion or $1.5 trillion, but why focus on price tags when what matters is the plan's contents?
My answer has been simple: I have no idea what's going to end up in the Build Back Better bill. Over the course of months of negotiations, ideas have come and gone, but without something resembling a final proposal, it's impossible to scrutinize a blueprint undergoing constant changes.
As of this morning, as CNBC reported, today represents an apparent breakthrough.
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that he has reached a deal with Senate Democratic holdouts on a $1.75 trillion social spending and climate bill, according to senior administration officials.... The package contains a wide-ranging set of programs that, if enacted, will profoundly impact the lives of families with children, low-income Americans and the renewable energy economy.
As you'd imagine, there's a lot to unpack in a package of this size, and the White House has created a couple of online summaries, fleshing out the details. That said, here are some topline elements to keep in mind:
- 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
- Closing the Medicaid coverage gap in red states, pushing the country closer to universal coverage
- New hearing benefits for Medicare beneficiaries
- Housing aid, including rental assistance, public housing, and down-payment support
- A half-trillion-dollar investment to combat climate change, including massive clean energy tax credits
All of this would be paid for by way of several new tax policies, including a corporate minimum tax, a new surtax on multi-millionaires and billionaires, and vastly improved enforcement of existing tax laws by investments in the IRS.
According to the White House's budget math, the revenue generated by the package would be slightly greater than the spending total — which technically means the Build Back Better agenda is projected to make the deficit smaller, not bigger.
Regardless, the White House sought a bill that would be ambitious and historic, and by any fair measure, this framework is both. If approved, Biden's plan would make a dramatic difference in the lives of millions of working families, while simultaneously creating a fairer and more effective economy.
If you'd told most Democrats a year ago today that this was a real possibility, they'd likely do cartwheels.
That's the good news.
The not-quite-as-good news is that quite a few worthwhile priorities were left out of the package because conservative and centrist Democrats — most notably Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — wouldn't accept them. Guaranteed paid leave, for example, was left on the cutting-room floor. So was two years of free community college, a provision to lower prescription drug costs, and an effort to add dental and vision coverage to Medicare.
What's more, the lower tax rates created by Republicans in 2017 will remain untouched, at least for now.
Finally, what was unveiled this morning was the White House's plan that enjoys the president's enthusiastic support. In fact, Biden was on Capitol Hill this morning, pitching House Democrats on the strength of the Build Back Better framework.
What we haven't heard is whether congressional Democratic skeptics are fully on board with this plan, or when/how it might pass.
In other words, the Build Back Better agenda took a step forward today, but the process isn't over just yet, and there's a lot of work left to be done.
Update: Some news organizations are saying this is is a $1.75 trillion package, while others say it's $1.85 trillion. That's because the White House's framework includes $100 billion for immigration policy, but it's unclear whether it'll survive the Senate parliamentarian's scrutiny.