The House of Representatives was poised to vote on the Build Back Better Act, the $1.9 trillion social spending and climate package that is a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s agenda.
The vote was delayed as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, leading the Republican opposition, delivered a speech from the floor that went for more than two hours. He blasted the Democrats for reckless spending, as used his filibuster-like opportunity as an attack on the White House in general.
“America has had enough,” he said.
But Democrats said that they were on the verge of passing badly needed legislation that will expand the social safety in ways that will boost productivity and give a badly needed lifeline to working families.
“We simply cannot go back to the way things were before the pandemic,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
The legislation includes funding for universal pre-K and subsidies for child care, along with an extension of the child tax credit and four weeks of paid family and medical leave. It would expand Medicare to cover hearing benefits, extend Medicaid coverage to four million people, lower prescription drug costs and reduce premiums in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. It also includes hundreds of billions to combat climate change, with an expansion of tax credits for home solar and clean energy, and other provisions to cut the cost of electric vehicles. An immigration provision would give protection to millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Read the bill’s cost breakdown from the Congressional Budget Office here.
Of particular interest to the media business is the inclusion of a tax credit for local broadcast, print and online news outlets to employ journalists. It would provide a credit up to $25,000 to defray employment taxes in the first year, and $15,000 in the next four years, for each employee. That would cover 50% of compensation up to $50,000 in the first year and 30% in the next four years.
The bill would be paid for via a surtax on the wealthiest Americans, as well as as 15% minimum tax on corporations that report at least $1 billion in profits to shareholders. The legislation would offer some relief to taxpayers who live in states and cities with high taxes, as it would increase the maximum tax deduction on state and local income taxes to $80,000, from the current $10,000.
The House’s ability to move forward on the bill hinged on the release of a Congressional Budget Office estimate of the legislation’s impact on the deficit. Moderates had demanded that a vote be put off until the CBO analysis was released. It showed that the bill would increase the deficit by $367 billion over a ten year period. But that figure does not include another aspect of the legislation: Increasing IRS enforcement. The Treasury estimates that it would raise $400 billion in additional revenue, but the CBO analysis is lower than that.
The legislation is expected to pass along party lines, and even if its does, there is expectation that it will be pared down as it moves to the Senate. It’s likely no Republican senator will support the bill, leaving Democrats with no votes to spare. Two Democrats, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), have balked at aspects of the legislation and have yet to give it their support. Among the provisions in doubt are ones for paid family and medical leave, as well as immigration.
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