Leading Up to the Build Back Better Act Vote

Letters From An American,” November 18, 2021; Professor Heather Cox – Richardson

Today began with Republican leadership doubling down on its support for Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), whom the House censured yesterday for tweeting a cartoon video of himself killing a Democratic colleague, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and attacking the president, Joe Biden. Only two Republicans voted with the Democrats in favor of the censure.

Former president Donald Trump issued a statement praising Gosar and saying the congressman “has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” In addition to the censure, the House stripped Gosar of his committee assignments, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said today that if the Republicans take the majority and he is elected Speaker, he will likely throw Democrats off committees and give Gosar and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who was stripped of her committee assignments in February after violent threats against Democratic colleagues, better committee assignments.

This morning, on the podcast of Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows went after McCarthy, suggesting that Trump should replace him. Then, on Trump loyalist Steve Bannon’s podcast, Meadows suggested that if the Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in next year’s elections, Trump should become Speaker of the House, which would drive Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “crazy.” Bannon suggested he could hold the position for 100 days and “sort things out” before running for president in 2024.

While the Trump loyalists were putting the screws to McCarthy, the economic news continued to be good. A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on Thursday showed that the United States is the only G7 country to surpass its pre-pandemic economic growth. That growth has been so strong it has buoyed other countries.

Meanwhile, the administration’s work with ports and supply chains to handle the increase in demand for goods appears to be having an effect. Imports through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are up 16% from 2018, and in the first two weeks of November, those two ports cleared about a third of the containers sitting on their docks.

Then the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its score for the Democrats’ $1.85 trillion Build Back Better Act. The CBO is a nonpartisan agency within the legislative branch that provides budget and economic information to Congress. The CBO’s estimate of the costs of the Build Back Better Act will affect who will vote for it.

The CBO’s projection was good news for the Democrats; it was in line with what the Democrats had said the bill would cost. The CBO estimates that the bill will increase the deficit by $367 billion over ten years. But the CBO also estimates that the government will raise about $207 billion over those same ten years by enforcing tax rules on those currently cheating on them. These numbers were good in themselves—in comparison, the CBO said the 2017 Republican tax cuts would cost $1.4 trillion over ten years—but they might get even better. Many economists, including Larry Summers, who has been critical of the Biden administration, think that the CBO estimates badly underplay the benefits of the bill.

The CBO score also predicted that the savings from prescription drug reforms in the bill would come in $50 billion higher than the House had predicted.

As soon as the score was released, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would vote on the bill tonight, suggesting that she had the votes to pass the bill.

And then something interesting happened. Kevin McCarthy took to the House floor to slow down the passage of the Build Back Better Act, throwing the vote into the middle of the night. The minority leader put on a Trump-esque show of non-sequiturs, previewing the kind of speech he would make to rally Republicans behind him if the Republicans retake the House in 2022. The speech was angry, full of shouting, and made for right-wing media: it was full of all the buzz-words that play there. McCarthy spoke for more than three hours—as I write this, he is still speaking.

But the blows he was trying to deliver didn’t land. The Democrats made fun of him, catcalled, and eventually just walked out, while the Republicans lined up behind McCarthy looked increasingly bored, checked their phones, and appeared to doze off. When Axios reporter Andrew Solender asked a Republican aide for some analysis of the speech, the aide answered: “I’m watching the Great British Baking Show.”

As he spoke, Pelosi’s office fact-checked him, noting that while he is attacking the elements of the bill, saying no one wants them, the opposite is true. According to CBS News, Pelosi’s staff wrote, “88 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s measures to cut prescription drug prices,” “73 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s funding for paid family leave,” and “67 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s funding for universal pre-K.” In addition, according to Navigator Research, “84 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s provisions to lower health insurance premiums,” and “72 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s creation of clean energy jobs to combat climate change.”

Grace Segers, a politics reporter for The New Republic, described the mood in the House as “hostile.” She noted that Democrats are furious that McCarthy has made no effort to rein in the most extreme Republicans and, after yesterday’s defense of Gosar, have had enough. In his speech, McCarthy was indeed courting that extreme right, posturing not for voters, but rather for his conference, trying to reassure them that he is a strong enough pro-Trump leader to be House Speaker if the Republicans retake the House.

But it felt tonight as if the dynamic in the House has changed. The Republicans are now openly embracing Trump and his one-man rule. But their support for Gosar yesterday appears to have created a breach. Democrats are no longer trying to reason with the Republicans and are instead treating them with derision. That is, psychologically at least, a much more dominant position than they held recently.

Rather than vote in the middle of the night, the Democrats have delayed the vote on the bill until tomorrow, when the American people can watch. In the past, Republicans have criticized Democrats for passing legislation “in the dead of night.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said of this important bill that dramatically expands the nation’s social safety net: “We are going to do it in the day.”