US House steers towards passage of Biden's $2.37 trillion social Bill

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Democrats in the US House of Representatives on Thursday (Nov 18) advanced President Joe Biden’s US$1.75 trillion (S$2.37 trillion) domestic investment Bill, despite a non-partisan arbiter’s finding that it would add to the deficit. 

The House voted 220-211 to approve the rule for debating the measure, clearing the way for a vote on passage later in the night. No Republicans supported the move. 

Earlier, the Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would increase federal budget deficits by US$367 billion over 10 years, although it acknowledged that additional revenues could be generated through improved Internal Revenue Service tax collections. 

The CBO estimated that the new tax enforcement activities would generate a net increase in revenues of US$127 billion through 2031. The White House estimates the changes will generate US$400 billion in additional revenue.

At least one of the moderate Democrats who had wanted to see the CBO score before voting said she accepted the White House’s math.

“We put in the work and look what we got – a Build Back Better Act that’s fully paid for, reduces the deficit and helps American families,” said Representative Carolyn Bordeaux. “Now it’s time to pass it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a vote on passage would occur later on Thursday.

If passed, the Bill would be in addition to the more than US$1 trillion infrastructure investment legislation that Mr Biden signed into law this week.

The new Bill provides free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, boosts coverage of home-care costs for the elderly and disabled, expands affordable housing programmes and increases grants for college students.

The two measures comprise the twin pillars of Mr Biden’s domestic agenda and would be on top of the US$1.9 trillion in emergency coronavirus pandemic aid that Biden and his fellow Democrats pushed through Congress in March over a wall of opposition from Republicans.

“The numbers have been crunched and the technical language has been vetted and we are on the doorstep of passing this historic Bill,” House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, a Democrat, said as debate of the Bill began on the House floor.

Republicans have vowed to withhold their support, leaving Democrats to employ a special “budget reconciliation” procedure that would allow them to ram the legislation through the Senate with a simple majority vote, instead of at least 60 votes in the 100-member chamber normally needed to advance measures.

Republican Representative Guy Reschenthaler said the Bill will worsen inflation and hand tax breaks to the wealthy.

He labelled it “the Democrats’ big government socialist spending spree.”

In addition to funding expanded social programmes, the Bill provides US$550 billion to battle climate change.

If it passes the Democratic-controlled House, it would go to the Senate for consideration, where two centrist Democratic members have threatened to hold it up. Senators are expected to amend the House Bill. If so, it would have to be sent back to the House for final passage.

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Under the Bill, an expanded child tax credit would be extended for a year, working parents would receive help paying for childcare, pre-kindergarten schooling would be available to all and seniors would receive home health care in an attempt to keep many from having to go to nursing homes.

It also would significantly lower the cost of some prescription drugs, such as insulin.

Democrats have a 221-213 majority in the House and can only afford to lose three Democratic votes on the Bill since no Republicans are expected to vote for it.

Mr Biden pleaded for passage after sobering performances for Democrats in this month’s state elections. But some centrist Democrats interpreted the results differently, worrying that ambitious spending plans were not resonating with voters.

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