House moves closer to major vote on Biden’s Build Back Better legislation

WASHINGTON — House Democrats cleared a key procedural hurdle Thursday evening and moved closer to holding a long-awaited floor vote on President Joe Biden’s social safety net and climate package, with party leaders formally kicking off debate in the full chamber.

The House voted 220-211 along party lines to advance the bill to a final vote after the Congressional Budget Office released a cost estimate of the legislation, which centrist Democratic lawmakers had demanded before proceeding with the measure.

The vote came shortly after an estimate published by CBO unlocked support from key holdouts. The nonpartisan agency projected that the nearly $1.7 trillion package would add $160 billion to the deficit over the next decade, after accounting for taxes and savings to finance it.

While the budget office estimated that savings from beefed-up IRS enforcement would boost revenue by $207 billion, the Treasury Department projected it would be $400 billion.

“A particularly salient aspect of the revenue raised by the legislation is a historic investment in the IRS to crack down on high-earners who avoid paying the taxes that they owe, which Treasury estimates would generate at least $400 billion in additional revenue,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement Thursday, arguing that the Build Back Better Act is “fully paid for.”

The White House has been priming Democratic lawmakers for that discrepancy. If the Treasury estimate were swapped in, the bill would be paid for, satisfying a demand of moderates. Key centrists like Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., have said they believe the Treasury projection is more accurate.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a previous holdout, said Thursday she would vote for the bill.

“Despite its flaws, the Build Back Better Act has a lot of positive elements,” she said, adding that “as a pragmatic Democrat who wants to deliver for my constituents, I am never one to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

Democratic leaders began debate on the floor Thursday evening, aiming to pass the bill that night.

The legislation calls for spending on a variety of Democratic priorities, from health care subsidies to clean energy. It would give the government the power to negotiate prices for certain medicines, subsidize child care and extend cash payments for most parents with children under 18.

One of the key Democratic holdouts in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, was seen at the White House on Thursday before the CBO estimate was released. He was in attendance for Dr. Rahul Gupta’s swearing in as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Earlier this week, Biden visited Detroit to promote the recently enacted infrastructure law and made the case for passing the social safety net bill.

Speaking from a General Motors plant that was renovated to build electric trucks and SUVs, Biden said Wednesday that his legislative agenda would not add to inflationary pressures and argued that his Build Back Better plan would make a “gigantic difference” for households by lowering the costs of child and health care.

On Monday, Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $7.5 billion to build a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations aimed at helping speed consumer adaptation of clean vehicles, and $6 billion for low- or no-emission transit vehicles.

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