The Reconciliation Bill Clears The House. Now It Has To Survive The Senate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). TPM Illustrations/Getty Images
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November 19, 2021 9:47 a.m.

The House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better reconciliation bill Friday, a sweeping package that contains wide swaths of President Joe Biden’s agenda. It goes now to the Senate.

The vote finally happened shortly before 10 a.m., after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) launched into a many-hours long floor speech Thursday night and delayed the vote. Democrats on the floor were jubilant during the much-delayed final vote, the chatter at times drowning out lawmakers’ proxy voting announcements.

Final passage also came after a week of waiting for scoring information from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which some moderate members requested before the vote. The CBO found that the bill would modestly increase the deficit, though White House estimates show the bill to be fully paid for, stemming largely from a difference in projections of one revenue raiser. Moderates had telegraphed earlier this week that they expected the CBO score to fall short, and that they were prepared to trust the administration’s numbers.

“I intend to advance the Build Back Better Act after receiving information from the Congressional Budget Office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, and the Treasury Department that shows the bill is fiscally disciplined,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), one of the moderates, said before the vote.

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For months, Democratic leadership had kept the reconciliation package paired with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which the House passed and President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this month. The day they voted on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, moderate Democrats promised progressives that the reconciliation bill would get a vote this week. That promise was ultimately fulfilled. 

Friday’s vote marks the end of a delicate dance House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been performing for months in an effort to keep both wings of the party on board with the bills they like less.

Her effort was periodically imperiled by House moderates’ demands, and by House progressives’ serious distrust of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). House moderates have long insisted that the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which passed out of the Senate back in August, get a House vote on its own. House progressives balked at the suggestion, afraid that Manchin and Sinema would kill or gut the reconciliation bill as soon as the senators’ favored legislation got through both chambers. 

The stalemate ended earlier this month, when progressives agreed to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill and pass the buck to congressional leadership and the White House to get reconciliation done in the upper chamber.  

On the reconciliation bill, which contains potentially transformative proposals addressing child care, health care, housing and climate, the House has always been a prelude to the Senate. In the upper chamber, Manchin and Sinema have wielded their veto power ruthlessly, quashing everything from paid leave to the one-time crux of the Democrats’ climate plan to tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations. 

The Senate will likely take up the bill when it returns from a Thanksgiving recess the week of Nov. 29. The legislation will still have many steps to weather there, including a vote-a-rama where senators can propose amendments. The Senate’s version of the bill will also almost certainly differ from the House’s version, which means additional work before final passage. In one instance of potential contention, the House added a paid leave provision to its bill despite Manchin’s stated opposition to addressing the issue through reconciliation.

Upon its return, the Senate will also have to fund the government, address the debt ceiling and finish a must-pass annual defense funding bill — all of which have deadlines in December. The chamber is scheduled to leave on holiday recess starting Dec. 13, though some of that may get cancelled in the face of a very crowded to-do list. 

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