Despite lingering questions in Senate, House Democrats project confidence in Build Back Better plan's chances

·Senior Writer
·5 min read

House Democratic leadership expressed confidence that the $2 trillion Build Back Better spending bill would pass the Senate without major changes despite a lack of commitment from centrist Democrats in the chamber.

The House version of President Biden’s domestic agenda passed Friday morning 220-213, with all Democrats but one in favor and all Republicans against. In a press conference shortly after the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked about potential major changes to the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presides over the passage of President Biden’s expansive social spending bill on Friday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“Ninety-some percent of the bill was written together — House, Senate, White House. There were some differences at the end, and we’ll deal with those as we go forward,” Pelosi said, adding of the Senate process, “This bill will now be reshaped to their committees, and at that point we’ll see where we need to, shall we say, reconcile our differences. But at the end of the day we will have a great bill.”

The vote was originally scheduled for Thursday evening but was delayed following an eight-hour-plus speech by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Among the provisions included in the plan are extending the expanded child tax credit, providing universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, spending billions on climate and expanding Medicare to provide hearing benefits for seniors. Funding for the programs comes from increasing corporate taxes, a new tax on millionaires, funding for IRS enforcement on the wealthy and negotiating prescription drug prices. Negotiations on the plan have been ongoing for months and came in conjunction with an infrastructure bill that Biden signed into law Monday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks Thursday on the House floor. (House Television via AP)

The bill will now head to the Senate, where all 50 members of the Democratic caucus must be in agreement for it to be able to pass through the budget reconciliation process. This requires the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has yet to say he’ll support the bill and has expressed concerns about inflation.

Manchin said Thursday that House passage of the bill would not affect his thinking. A number of provisions sought by Biden, including free community college and more aggressive efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, were already sliced from the bill to appease Manchin, who has also said he opposes a family leave program that was passed as part of the House package.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has also not said she will vote for a version of the bill close to what the House just passed.

“So, that’s not the agreement the president put out in his framework several weeks ago,” Sinema told the Washington Post. “While I’m not going to comment on what’s happening in the House at this moment, I can just refer you back to the comments I made when the president put out his framework. … I’m looking forward to working with him to get this done.”

Due to objections from Manchin, Sinema and centrists in the House, the original $3.5 trillion spending proposal saw its size nearly cut in half. Polling from Yahoo News and YouGov published last week found that the smaller bill was less popular than the larger one, but that many of the provisions within it were broadly popular with most Americans.

Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema after a Democratic policy luncheon on Tuesday on Capitol Hill. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

If the Senate indeed passes a modified version of the bill, it would then need approval again in the House, a delicate process for Pelosi with a thin majority and a wide array of ideological factions. Despite the numerous potential obstacles, top House Democrats also projected certainty that the bill will eventually be signed into law.

“Over the last few months and particularly the last few weeks, we’ve been working with the senators, not only Manchin and Sinema but also the chairs of the committee in the Senate,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who serves as the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“This [bill] is pretty much it,” Pallone added. “There may be some additional changes, but in terms of paying for it and in terms of the actual substantive authorizing language, we’re pretty solid at this point, and there’s no reason why this bill couldn’t pretty much come back from the Senate with some minor changes, nothing major, in my opinion.”

“We think we’ve got a good bill. They think they can make it better,” Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the majority whip, said of the Senate. “Let them go at it. And they may make it better. And we will accept better. I don’t think that’s anything for us to be all that concerned about.”

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina at a news conference following House passage of the Build Back Better Act on Friday. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Rep. Jared Golden of Maine was the only Democrat to vote against the bill as other centrist legislators who had expressed concerns went along with the party. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., voted in favor but said in a statement, “There are things that I would have preferred to be taken out of the bill, and that I believe the Senate will now slim down.”

Slotkin also noted that she would have preferred the immigration section to be in a separate bill. When asked specifically at the Friday press conference about immigration measures that may drop out of the bill, Pelosi said they had “made their statement today” and survived the first “scrub” of the Senate parliamentarian, who may strike some measures as being too removed from taxing and spending to be included in a budget reconciliation bill.

In a statement released after the vote, Biden thanked House leadership and said he looked forward to the bill's passage in the Senate so he would be able to sign it into law.

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