House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) speak to reporters at the U.S. Capitol building as the House prepared to vote on infrastructure and spending bills, on November 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON—The U.S. House cleared a $1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill and took a major step toward passage of a landmark $1.85 trillion social spending and climate bill late Friday, following months of wrangling between Democrats’ progressive and moderate wings.
The votes marked a milestone in the marathon negotiations among members of the House Democratic caucus—and finally victory in sending billions of new dollars in roads, bridge and transit spending to President Joe Biden’s desk. “Tonight, we took a monumental step forward as a nation,” Biden said in a statement issued early Saturday.
“I look forward to signing both of these bills into law,” he said. “Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st Century.”
And while Biden’s sprawling Build Back Better social policy plan didn’t get a final vote, the president and House leaders said they’re confident that will happen the week of Nov. 15. House Democrats did approve on a party-line 221-213 vote a rule that sets the terms for debate when the Build Back Better legislation comes to the floor.
The physical infrastructure bill passed on a bipartisan 228-206 vote, with progressives like Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Andy Levin of Michigan and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey lining up behind it after a deal was struck between the dissenting factions of the Democratic caucus. Republicans who voted in favor included Reps. Chris Smith and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Fred Upton of Michigan.
In opposition were progressives like Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri.
Several hours before the votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not answer questions on whether she had secured the 218 votes needed to pass the legislation.
“We’ll see, won’t we?” she said to reporters.
Under pressure from House leadership and Biden, progressives and moderates reached an agreement late Friday.
In a statement, five moderate Democrats—Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Ed Case of Hawaii and Kathleen Rice of New York—pledged to support the rule Friday and the underlying budget bill in its current form the week of Nov. 15 if projections from the Congressional Budget Office were consistent with White House budget estimates.
Following the statement from moderates, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapa, (D-Wash.), said that her members had reached an agreement with House leadership and the president.
“Our colleagues have committed to voting for the transformative Build Back Better Act, as currently written, no later than the week of November 15,” she said in a statement. “As part of this agreement, at the request of the President, and to ensure we pass both bills through the House, progressives will advance the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the House rule on Build Back Better tonight.”
Moderates had pushed for an analysis from the CBO, the fiscal scorekeeper for Congress, before voting for the spending plan.
The moderates’ statement was enough to win the support of all but six progressives for the infrastructure bill. Thirteen Republicans joined most Democrats in voting to approve it.
The Senate passed an identical measure in August, so the next step is Biden’s signature.
The bill includes:
- $351 billion for highways and bridges
- $107 billion for transit
- $73 billion for electric grid infrastructure
- $66 billion for passenger rail
- $55 billion for drinking water infrastructure
- $42 billion for broadband deployment
- $25 billion for airports
- $17 billion for ports
- $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations
- $7.5 billion for electric buses and ferries
House Democrats also approved in a party-line vote a rule setting the terms for a vote on the larger spending plan that would provide $400 billion for universal pre-K for 3-and-4 year-olds and help ease the cost of child care for families, including by extending an enhanced child tax credit.
The agreement came even as a group of centrist Democrats had wavered in their support of the so-called Build Back Better bill. Many raised concerns over the total cost.
One of the moderate Democrats, Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, gave her support for passing the rule to move Biden’s social spending package forward.
“Congress must unite to make that happen — lowering drug prices and capping insulin costs, investing in broadband internet, extending the refundable Child Tax Credit, tackling the climate crisis, and repairing Virginia’s roads & bridges,” she wrote on Twitter.
In remarks on the House floor, Pelosi praised the bills as “transformative” and said they were more significant than the 2010 health care law that was President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.
She also acknowledged the delicate negotiations that were required to reach Friday’s vote.
“To craft and pass this bill, choices had to be made,” she said.
Democrats took to the House floor to promote both the infrastructure bill and social spending package.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat who chairs the Education and Labor Committee, said Build Back Better would make child care more affordable and allow millions of parents to reenter the workforce.
Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, highlighted the climate provisions of the bill. The measure would spend $40 billion to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector and improve resiliency from climate change, he said.
Republicans focused their opposition on the size of the package and the amount of spending.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, (R-La.), criticized some revenue-generating provisions, including taxes on natural gas and a provision to bolster Internal Revenue Service enforcement efforts.
Before Democrats could begin debate on Biden’s social spending plan, Republicans filed a motion to stop consideration of the package.
A procedural vote that barely received enough votes in a 215-212 vote was brought up by Rep. Jason Smith, (R-Mo.), who said the rule on the Build Back Better Act violated the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which established the congressional budget process. In order for the House to be able to vote on the rule for the social reform package, Democrats first needed a majority to vote against the point of order brought by Smith.
That vote was held open for nearly five hours as the Congressional Progressive Caucus strategized. The meeting stretched into dinner as lawmakers ordered pizza to the Capitol.
In a statement, Biden said he was “confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.” The House is in recess next week for Veterans Day.
But the bill faces an uncertain future in the evenly divided Senate.
Centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have not said they’ll support the House version of the bill. Both have raised concerns about the topline spending number and Manchin said he does not support the paid family leave provision.
Senate liberals may object to the provision lifting the cap on the federal tax deduction taxpayers can take for what they pay to state and local governments.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), said he expects to start debate on the spending plan the week of Nov. 15. Senators would then have an opportunity to amend the House version.
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