House passes ‘Build Back Better’ Act, challenge looms in the Senate

McConnell lining up fight in the Senate; universal Pre-K one of provisions

(CNN) – The House has passed President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion spending bill, known as the Build Back Better Act – a major piece of legislation that would transform the nation’s social safety net, despite being whittled down to roughly half its original size amid infighting between the party’s moderate and progressive wings.

Now the bill must be taken up by the Senate, an effort that will put party unity to the ultimate test.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement after the House passed the bill that the Senate “will act as quickly as possible to get this bill to President Biden’s desk and deliver help for middle-class families.”

Schumer said they’ll take it up, “As soon as the necessary technical and procedural work with the Senate Parliamentarian has been completed.”

Senate Democrats have no margin of error to approve the legislation and key lawmakers — most prominently moderate West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — have expressed concerns over elements of the plan as policy fights loom on the horizon.

Manchin told CNN on Thursday that he has not decided whether to support voting to proceed to the Build Back Better bill, the critical first vote to take up the measure in the Senate. Any one Democratic defection would stall the effort.

“No,” Manchin said when asked if he had made a decision to vote to proceed. “I’m still looking at everything.” The comments reflect that Manchin is still not on board with the legislation and signal the tough road ahead for Democrats.

The West Virginia Democrat said that he wants to see the final numbers from the Congressional Budget Office and changes made to the bill. “I just haven’t seen the final, the final bill. So when the final bill comes out, CBO score comes out, then we’ll go from there,” he said.

Manchin also reiterated his concerns about inflation. “Everyone’s concerned, they should be concerned about inflation, because it’s real. Inflation is real,” he said. “So we got to make sure we get through this the best we can, and put no more burden on them.”

A fight is also brewing over a controversial tax provision that some progressives have decried as a giveaway to the rich.

Earlier this month, House Democrats came to an agreement to deal with state and local tax deductions after Democrats from the Northeast and West Coast had pushed to loosen the caps imposed by the 2017 tax law. Under the SALT deal, deductions would be capped at $80,000 per year over a nine-year time span.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, on Thursday railed on the House provisions dealing with the state and local tax deductions, calling it “wrong” and “bad politics.”

The Build Back Better Act represents a central part of President Biden’s policy agenda and an attempt by congressional Democrats to go at it alone without GOP support to enact a major expansion of the social safety net.

The House and Senate recently passed, and Biden then signed into law, a separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which marked a major legislative achievement for both parties.

The Build Back Better Act is an effort by Democrats to build on that investment in traditional infrastructure by making extensive investments to ramp up social programs and address the climate crisis.

Among its many provisions, the legislation would create a universal pre-K program, extend the enhanced child tax credit and expand access to health care, affordable housing and home care for seniors.

Democrats argue that the provisions in the bill are urgently needed and will widely benefit Americans. Republicans, meanwhile, have decried the legislation as a reckless and partisan tax and spending spree.

The Congressional Budget Office released its final scoring for the bill early Thursday evening, estimating that the package “would result in a net increase in the deficit totaling $367 billion,” according to a summary.

But the White House has worked to make the case that the bill will be fully paid for, despite the CBO analysis showing a shortfall.

The CBO analysis does not include revenue from tighter IRS enforcement. The CBO estimated earlier that would raise $207 billion.

The White House argues that increased IRS enforcement would actually raise more than what the CBO projects, meaning the bill would be fully paid for in their estimate.

Read more about the legislation here.

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