US House passes Biden’s historic social spending bill

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US lawmakers voted Friday to elevate President Joe Biden's giant social welfare bill to the Senate, in a major step forward for his vision to create a more equitable society -- the centerpiece of his domestic agenda.

Build Back Better -- Biden's potentially legacy-defining package of education, health care, childcare and climate reforms -- was green-lit by the House of Representatives four days after he signed into law the first part of his economic blueprint, a sweeping upgrade of the country's crumbling infrastructure.

The $1.8 trillion measure faces a bumpier ride in the upper chamber Senate, with the Democrats' deficit hawks jittery over spiraling inflation, before it gets a final rubber stamp in the House, likely in January.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had hoped for a vote late Thursday but Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy scuppered that plan by breaking her record for the longest House floor speech, clocking in at more than eight-and-a-half hours.

The breakthrough vote in the House came as Biden was set to transfer power to Vice President Kamala Harris while he underwent a colonoscopy under anesthesia as part of a regular health check.

The White House released a statement from the president as he was out of action, describing the vote as "another giant step forward in carrying out my economic plan to create jobs, reduce costs, make our country more competitive and give working people and the middle class a fighting chance."

Dealbreaker

The legislation would provide millions of jobs, according to the White House, although Republicans have characterized it as an example of wildly out-of-control Democratic spending.

It will likely be trimmed further in any case in the upper chamber, where Democrats have the narrowest of majorities and moderates are voicing concerns over Biden's spending plans.

Annual inflation jumped to 6.2 percent last month, giving Republicans another cudgel to bash Biden with as they bid to retake both chambers of Congress in next year's midterm elections.

House Democrats would have lost the party-line vote had there been more than three defectors.

In the end only one Democrat -- from a competitive district in Maine --- joined the Republicans in rejecting the bill, boosting the majority party's hopes that members in both chambers can overcome months of infighting to get the package signed into law.

Republicans seized on an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office saying the bill would boost the deficit by $367 billion over 10 years.

But White House officials had already been warning for days that the estimate would not take into account savings that could be made through tougher taxation enforcement.

'Craptacular mess'

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday that Build Back Better was "more than fully paid for," and would help reduce the deficit in the long run "by asking large corporations and the country's top earners to pay their fair share."

The bill is likely to be taken up by the upper chamber in late December or possibly January, with more urgent priorities such as avoiding a debt default and a government shutdown expected to take up much of the holiday period.

Pelosi downplayed the potential for senators making major changes, telling reporters after the vote that 90 percent of the text had been agreed among Democrats in both chambers of Congress and the White House.

"There were some differences at the end, and we'll deal with that as we go forward," she said.

The Senate has been locked in a 50-50 split for one of the longest periods in its history, and, with no votes to spare, every Democrat effectively has a veto on any bill as long as Republicans stick together.

Senate progressives are pushing for a national paid family leave program and a bigger expansion of health care benefits, but the latest inflation data could torpedo those efforts.

"We will act as quickly as possible to get this bill to President Biden's desk and deliver help for middle-class families," the upper chamber's leader Chuck Schumer said.

But Nebraska's Ben Sasse led a chorus of opprobrium from Senate Republicans over the legislation, labeling it a "craptacular mess" that will lead to "a million more annual IRS (tax) audits."

(AFP)

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