The divided House of Representatives debates the expansionary Social Democratic Climate Bill

The divided House of Representatives debates the expansionary Social Democratic Climate Bill

Washington — The divided House of Representatives finally began a debate Thursday on an expanded social and environmental bill for Democrats, with party leaders hopeful that projected cost estimates from Congress’ top finance analysts will clear the votes of moderate lawmakers and let them pass by the end of the week.

After two weeks of forcing the objections of Democratic centrists to delay the measure, the bill is beginning to move amid optimistic signs from leaders and lawmakers that their divisions are resolved — for now. In the face of a united Republican opposition, Democrats cannot lose more than three votes to win the House of Representatives.

The package, which is President Joe Biden’s top priority, will boost childcare assistance, create free preschool, reduce the costs of prescription drugs for older adults, and boost efforts to slow climate change.

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Biden and other Democratic leaders have said the $1.85 trillion 10-year measure will pay for itself, in large part through tax increases on wealthy corporations and large corporations doing business abroad.

The bill’s cost estimate, promised by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, was expected to show a slight rise in prices and a deficit of possibly as much as $200 billion over the next decade. Early indications were that these differences were unlikely to derail the legislation, which is over 2,100 pages long.

“Each of these investments on their own will have an extraordinary impact on the lives of American families,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmouth, Democrat of Kentucky, noting that the savings would come from higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, adding: “It’s a bargain. Noticeable”.

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Republicans said the legislation would damage an economy already struggling with inflation, grant tax breaks to some wealthy taxpayers, and make the government bigger and more intrusive. Missouri Rep. Jason Smith, the top Republican member of the Budget Committee, used an alliteration of Biden’s name for the measure — Rebuilding Better — to make fun of him.

“The economy goes bankrupt. It benefits the rich. It builds the Washington machine,” Smith said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, said she hopes the chamber will vote on the measure later Thursday, reflecting Democrats’ plans to approve the measure before leaving for a week’s vacation. “This is going to be a great Thanksgiving,” she said.

The controversy came with Democrats hoping to move toward a much-needed victory for Biden. For several months, the bill was held up by disagreement between moderates and progressives in the party over the cost of the measure and the policies it should include.

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Biden this week signed a trillion-dollar package of highways and other infrastructure projects, which he has spent recent days promoting across the country. But it has been battered recently by low approval numbers in opinion polls, reflecting voter concerns about inflation, supply chain delays and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The House’s passage of the social and environmental bill would send it to the Senate by 50-50, where Democrats have no votes. There will likely be significant changes due to cost-cutting demands by moderate Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va.

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Senate talks could take weeks, and the prospect that Manchin or others would force additional cuts to the measure made it easier for House moderates to support the legislation Thursday. The amended bill must return to the House of Representatives before going to Biden’s office.

Even as lawmakers debated the legislation, Democrats were intent on changing it before a House vote to make sure it didn’t conflict with Senate rules. Democrats use special rules that allow the bill to pass in the Senate by a simple majority, rather than the usual 60th majority, but such legislation must follow certain budgetary constraints.

When the moderates delayed House passage of the bill two weeks ago, they said they wanted to make sure the Central Bank of Oman’s projections for its costs matched White House numbers, which showed the measure essentially paid for itself.

However, some differences were expected between the CBO and White House estimates.

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A major contradiction was expected about the White House’s estimate that giving the IRS an additional $80 billion for its continued enforcement would yield $480 billion in new tax collections over a decade, a net gain of $400 billion. The CBO, using stricter estimation guidelines, was expected to project half of that amount into new revenue.

The House’s addition of a paid family leave program is also expected to increase the cost of the legislation. This program faces objections from Manchin and appears likely to be brought down by the Senate.

Some moderates have already said that the outlook for IRS savings is not always certain and will not make them oppose the measure. Others said the roughly $555 billion in tax credits and other costs to encourage clean energy don’t need to be paid for in the bill because global warming is an existential crisis.

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Critics have said the bill’s total cost would exceed $4 trillion if Democrats did not take temporary work on some of its programs that they already want to be permanent. For example, tax breaks for children and low-income workers, considered the party’s top priority, are extended for only one year.

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Associated Press congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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