House Passes Reconciliation Bill With Paid Leave, Universal Pre-K

The House passed the Build Back Better Act on Friday morning, after negotiations that dragged on for the better part of this year. The bill, which now heads to the Senate, contains measures like expanding Medicare to include hearing, allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of some prescription drugs, funding to combat the climate crisis and free pre-kindergarten for all.

The bill passed 220 to 213, with all Republicans voting no. Only one Democratic member ended up voting “no” on the bill — Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who opposed the bill due to conservative Democrats’ inclusion of the loosening of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap, which would primarily benefit the rich.

Democrats were able to bring the bill to a vote after conservative Democrats had insisted that the vote wait until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) gave a score on the bill’s costs and offsets.

On Thursday, the CBO said that the bill would cost roughly $1.7 trillion over the next ten years. With funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) included, the CBO estimated that the bill would decrease the deficit by $127 billion through 2031. This news evidently pleased the so-called deficit hawks in the House, like Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey) and Stephanie Murphy (D-Florida), who had been withholding their votes until the CBO score came out.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) spoke for nearly the entire night to delay the bill, starting his speech at about 8:30 pm ET and ending at about 5:00 am. His eight-and-a-half-hour speech was the longest continuous speech in the House since at least 1909, and was about a variety of issues unrelated to the reconciliation bill, including his grievances with Democrats, the House’s mask mandate, Hitler, his friendship with Elon Musk, the McDonald’s dollar menu and more. The speech was widely mocked by Democrats.

Progressive lawmakers applauded the passage of the bill on Friday. “We’re now closer than ever to delivering real, meaningful change to the American people,” wrote the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Twitter.

The group highlighted provisions like affordable housing investments, ensuring that child care won’t cost a family more than 7 percent of their income and four weeks of paid family and medical leave. They also highlighted the bill’s proposal to form a Civilian Climate Corps and prescription drug plans allowing seniors to pay less out of pocket for drugs.

As the caucus admitted, the bill still doesn’t measure up to what many progressive lawmakers had originally envisioned for the bill. However, the bill is still being debated in the Senate, where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) expressed optimism that it could be improved upon.

“The Senate has an opportunity to make this a truly historic piece of legislation. We will listen to the demands of the American people and strengthen the Build Back Better Act,” he said on Friday. He said that the Senate must include tax increases on the rich, implement a stronger prescription drug pricing plan and ensure that Medicare covers not only hearing but also dental and vision. He also highlighted the urgency of the bill to address the “existential threat” of the climate crisis, which the bill in its current form is weak on.

However, Sanders will likely face resistance — as he has for months now –from conservative Democrats Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) who, despite having gotten the bill cut in half from its original $3.5 trillion price tag, are still demanding that critical provisions be cut from the bill.

Coal baron Manchin, for instance, has been opposed to paid leave and child care funding programs, and still claims to be especially concerned about the price of the bill, even after it was drastically reduced. Although he has yet to say anything about the CBO score, he has complained in recent weeks about the bill’s potential to add to the deficit, while remaining mum about the CBO estimate that the infrastructure bill he negotiated isn’t fully paid for.