US President Joe Biden campaigned on the slogan “Build Back Better”. It has been his main platform – to help Americans by giving them more support in many avenues of life – education, subsidised childcare and healthcare, lower taxes.
With the US House of Representatives passing his $1.75 trillion package of the same name on Friday, Biden is close to realising a sweeping plan to enact the largest social support legislation in the United States in more than 50 years.
But the plan faces hurdles in the equally divided US Senate. Republicans are united in their opposition. The Democrats need every one of their 50 senators to vote for it.
Senator Joe Manchin, a centrist member of President Biden’s Democratic Party, has yet to signal his support for the package. And Senator Kyrsten Sinema, while she supports Biden’s plan, has suggested she still has concerns about details in the House bill.
Biden and the Democratic Party are counting on the legislation to use as a key campaign message in the upcoming 2022 congressional elections.
The package includes sweeping social provisions including free pre-Kindergarten education, childcare subsidies for working families, expansion of subsidised healthcare, and reductions in drug costs.
Importantly for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the bill seeks to invest about $500bn in clean energy and environmental programmes to address climate change.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Friday the Senate would quickly take up the legislation for debate and a vote.
“As soon as the necessary technical and procedural work with the Senate Parliamentarian has been completed, the Senate will take up this legislation,” Schumer said in a statement on Friday morning.
“We will act as quickly as possible to get this bill to President Biden’s desk and deliver help for middle-class families,” the Senate leader said.
Senator Manchin has expressed concern that the levels of new government spending in the plan could fuel higher inflation and create new welfare entitlements.
Manchin has said he is worried that some of the climate provisions would disadvantage coal production in his home state of West Virginia. Manchin praised the Democrats infrastructure bill, signed into law on November 15, as “historic” for its $6bn in West Virginia investments.
Senator Sinema, who has been an advocate for the US’s major pharmaceutical manufacturers, has indicated the bill that passed the House does not fully reflect the White House’s policy framework she backed in October.
Sinema may want to see changes to the bill’s Medicare drug pricing provisions which pharmaceutical makers have opposed.
The massive legislation was dialled back from $3.5 trillion favoured by most Democrats to a leaner $1.75 trillion in part to meet Manchin and Sinema’s concerns.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 220-213 after the Congressional Budget Office estimated tax funding in the bill would raise sufficient revenue to cover projected spending over 10 years. Republicans argued the bill would increase US federal deficits.
CBO estimates that the funding for tax enforcement activities provided by H.R. 5376, the Build Back Better Act, would increase outlays by $80 billion and revenues by $207 billion, thus decreasing the deficit by $127 billion, through 2031. https://t.co/GrbShPusVK
— U.S. CBO (@USCBO) November 18, 2021
Immigration reform provisions in the House bill, including about $100bn in new spending, may be stricken from the legislative package by the Senate Parliamentarian under strict Senate rules that prohibit significant policy changes on such budget measures.
Democrats have been forced to advance their agenda in Congress using expedited, but complicated budget procedures, because they do not have the 60 votes in the Senate that otherwise would be needed to enact major legislation.
The House vote caps months of intra-party squabbling among Democrats that had weakened Biden’s public standing among voters and contributed to a slide in his approval ratings. That could spell trouble for Democrats seeking to hold their narrow governing majority in Congress.
Democrats in the Senate and House have been working on hammering out differences in policy preferences among committee leaders.
House Democratic leaders on Friday predicted the legislation would come back to the House with acceptable changes by the Senate that improve the legislation.
“At the end of the day, we will have a great bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday expressing confidence the legislation would pass the Senate.
Once the Senate acts, the House must approve any changes before sending the bill to President Biden for his signature into law.