The House Takes Up the Build Back Better Act

Good morning and happy National Fast Food Day to those who celebrate.

Congress is kicking into high gear after a relatively quiet recess week. House Democrats are expected to consider the second plank of President Joe Biden’s domestic legislative agenda this week, the sweeping Build Back Better Act. The $1.75 trillion package addresses climate, health care, education, and other social spending programs.

The bill is expected to be a heavy lift: No Republicans support the measure and Democratic leadership is working with thin margins. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi can afford to lose only three votes, and in the 50-50 Senate, Democrats need every lawmaker in their caucus to get on board.

Moderate Democrats’ support may also depend on the estimated cost of the bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which will shed light on the accuracy of the administration’s claim that the bill is financed by stricter Internal Revenue Service enforcement and other measures.

House Democratic leadership has not yet signalled a specific day they might bring the measure to the floor. The CBO said Monday it expects to release a complete cost estimate by the end of the day Friday. So far, the CBO has scored the bill on a piecemeal basis. 

The anticipated vote comes after the House cleared a different bill—the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act—along bipartisan lines earlier this month. The bill includes $550 billion in new spending, focusing on physical infrastructure items like roads, bridges, and airports. The Senate had passed it in August, but dozens of progressive Democrats in the House withheld their support for months as leverage in negotiations with moderates over the Build Back Better bill.

Despite the messy race to the finish line, Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure plan into law Monday, and he used the signing ceremony as an opportunity to tout his administration’s ability to overcome partisan gridlock. 

“The bill I’m about to sign into law is proof that despite the cynics, Democrats and Republicans can come together and deliver results,” he said.

When the infrastructure plan passed earlier this month, all but six Democratic House members voted for it. The six who voted against the measure are among the most progressive members in the House: Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. 

They did not vote against the package because they were opposed to what was in it, but because they feared getting BIF to the president’s desk would forfeit their negotiating power.

Many of those six reiterated that point to The Dispatch yesterday.

“I’m worried that it’s going to be further gutted in the Senate,” Bowman said. Ocasio-Cortez also told reporters she was “very, very concerned” about whether the full BBB package will actually pass. Omar told The Dispatch that passing BIF before BBB “a really bad decision.” 

Not all Democrats are as nervous, though. 

One of the main negotiators of BBB was Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal. When asked by reporters yesterday if she was worried the incoming CBO score could dissuade some moderate Democrats from voting for the measure she said, “I don’t believe so.” She added that she has talked to some of her colleagues to ensure their support, and she is confident there will be a vote this week. 

Assuming the bill does clear the House this week, it will still be a few days or even weeks before the upper chamber is expected to consider it—in part because aspects of the legislation will need to be changed to bring it in line with the chamber’s rules on reconciliation, and in part because there is a whole host of other items on the Democrats’ agenda that need to be passed before the end of the year. 

Sen. Joe Manchin did not seem overly concerned about passing BBB anytime soon, remarking to reporters on Monday, “Well, let’s wait and see what inflation does.”

This week, the Senate is expected to consider the chamber’s version of the annual defense authorization bill. Next week, members are scheduled to return home for a Thanksgiving recess.

“The legislative agenda for the remainder of 2021 is considerable,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a Dear Colleague letter over the weekend. Along with the Build Back Better Act, Schumer listed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), funding the government to avert a shutdown, raising the debt limit, and other priorities such as confirming judges.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine told reporters on Monday that he expects the reconciliation bill to pass in December.

In the meantime, in keeping with the rules of reconciliation, the Senate parliamentarian will be looking through the act to see if any provisions violate the Byrd rule (which requires that anything passed via reconciliation be budget-related) and thus open up the possibility of a filibuster. That process is also dependent on when the Congressional Budget Office finishes scoring the package.

Build Back Better Details, Continued

The Uphill team has been trudging through the text of the bill for the past couple of weeks. You can read about its climate provisions here and its health and housing sections here. Today we’re including some details on immigration and family policies, both of which are likely to be removed or changed in the Senate. 

Immigration: One of the many sticking points for Democrats during the BBB negotiations has been immigration. Progressives set their sights high by suggesting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in early talks around the reconciliation package. However, the Senate parliamentarian twice ruled against portions of the immigration plan that would have provided that pathway. 

The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, said in her guidance: “The policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation.” 

So, what is the House bill left with? 

The pathway to citizenship Democrats were hoping for is out and replaced with an opportunity for parole for certain undocumented immigrants. The parole can be granted for five years at a time, but not past September 30, 2031. Under the bill, parole is an option for those who entered the United States before January 1, 2011, and have lived in the United States since their entry into the country.

The plan would give the parole option to between 7 million and 8 million undocumented immigrants and would allow them to obtain important documentation for living in the United States—like a driver’s license and work permits. 

Also in this portion: a plan to offer more visas by “recapturing” unused visas from past decades, an increase in fees for citizenship and immigration services, and $2.8 billion to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) budget. 

Paid leave: The House bill would amend the Social Security Act to implement a four-week paid family and medical leave benefit. Starting in 2024, individuals could take leave after the birth, fostering, or adoption of a child or due to a “serious personal or family health issue.” Those eligible to take leave under the legislation include spouses, grandparents, and other individuals tasked with caring for a child without compensation for four or more hours per week during their typical workday hours. 

It includes a minimum income threshold: To qualify, recipients must have at least $2,000 in earnings over the last two years, among several other requirements. The benefits are available to both full-time and part-time workers, as well as gig workers and those who are self-employed.

The weekly benefit amount would depend on the number of caregiving hours credited to a recipient in a given week and the number of work hours in the recipient’s typical work week, as well as the individual’s past average weekly income. 

Sen. Joe Manchin is still not on board with the provision, telling CNN that “I don’t think it belongs in the bill.”

Child tax credit: The bill extends for one year an increase in the child tax credit that Democrats passed earlier this year in their COVID-19 relief legislation. For 2022, the tax credit amount would be $3,000 per child, with an additional $600 for each child age 6 years and under. 

The child tax credit is income-based and phases out for single filers earning $75,000, joint filers earning above $150,000, and heads of households earning $112,500.

Childcare and universal pre-kindergarten: The legislation includes more than $100 billion to subsidize early childhood education. The program would launch in fiscal year 2025. Families with children age 5 and under would be eligible to participate in states that opt into it. The bill also directs $18 billion toward creating a universal free preschool program available to children age 5 and under. State child education providers including Head Start, licensed childcare programs, and local educational agencies could participate. The federal government would cover all of a given state’s costs for instituting the prekindergarten program during its first three years. After that, states would be required to contribute a percentage that would increase yearly.

The program institutes a sliding scale fee system based on income: Parents earning below 75 percent of state median income would pay nothing for child care, with those above that amount contributing up to 7 percent of their income. Some critics across the ideological spectrum have noted the income range could have a disparate effect on people making just above the legislation’s income threshold, as well as married couples. 

Economist Casey Mulligan recently wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that “a husband and wife who each earned about 75% of the median income would have to pay thousands for the same daycare” compared to a single parent making that amount who has a partner in the same income bracket. 

Others have raised alarms that parents who are ineligible for subsidies at first may find themselves saddled with increased costs due to new mandates in the legislation. The plan calls for hiking wages of childcare and early childhood staff to a level comparable with elementary school teachers.

Key Hearings

  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on combating ransomware this morning. National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, CISA Director Jen Easterly, and FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran will testify. Information and livestream here.

  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. Information and livestream here.

  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet tomorrow morning for a hearing on the policy lessons from the war in Afghanistan. Information and livestream here.

  • Federal Communications Commission Chair nominee Jessica Rosenworcel, along with several other presidential nominees, will testify before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Wednesday morning. Information and livestream here.

  • Several government officials will appear before the House Appropriations Committee for a hearing on global coronavirus vaccine equity tomorrow morning. Information and livestream here.

  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will meet on North American supply chain challenges Wednesday morning. Information and livestream here.

  • An Oversight and Reform subcommittee will hold a hearing on preventing suicide among veterans on Wednesday morning. Information and livestream here.

Of Note

Dems’ bitter pill: Popular health provisions won’t kick in until after the midterms

Top areas of House budget package that could see changes

Sen. Patrick Leahy, 81, the chamber’s longest-serving Democrat, announces he will retire

Democrats fear steep losses in 2022 midterm House races

PSA for Hill Denizens

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