House Democrats on Friday morning passed the Build Back Better Act, the expansive domestic policy package that promises to overhaul large swaths of the American economy.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, triumphantly brought down her gavel to mark the passing, to enthusiastic applause throughout the chamber from Democratic members. Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy had derailed the schedule to vote on Thursday night by delivering a record 8.5-hour speech overnight.
After months of fits and starts, gridlock and intra-party warring, Democrats leveraged their thin House majority to pass the centerpiece of Joe Biden’s economic vision.
The bill now goes back to the US Senate, where it faces total opposition from Republicans and an uphill battle, in its current form, against centrist Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
A triumphant Pelosi said at a press conference after the House voted to pass the $1.75tn legislation: “We will be telling our children and grandchildren that we were here this day.”
The president, attending Walter Reed hospital for a routine medical check on Friday, the day before his 79th birthday, called the passage of the bill through the House “a giant step” in enacting his economic plan.
Five days ago he signed the bipartisan $1.2tn infrastructure bill into law at the White House, dealing with rebuilding America’s roads and bridges and spreading broadband internet.
His medical requires a colonoscopy, which will require briefly going under anesthesia. As such, he will be briefly transferring power on Friday morning to the vice-president, Kamala Harris, while he undergoes this procedure, the first time the US has had, albeit briefly, a woman as acting president.
The Build Back Better Act provides hundreds of billions to new social programs and action to mitigate the effects and worsening of the climate crisis.
Outside the US Capitol, progressive leader and Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said there was not agreement on every element of the bill but that she was pleased with the overwhelming support.
She called the bill “a very strong vote to send to the Senate”.
South Carolina congressman James Clyburn, who was instrumental in shepherding Black voters to support Joe Biden when he was struggling in the primaries during the 2020 campaign, eventually seeing him win the nomination and the White House, spoke of “a good day” as he appeared alongside Pelosi after Friday’s vote.
Members of the House had broken into applause moments earlier when the Democrats’ votes were all counted, signalling that the bill had passed, chanting: “Build Back Better! Build Back Better!”
“The Build Back Better Act is passed,” Pelosi announced minutes later, to more cheering and chants of “Nancy! Nancy! Nancy!”
The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has indicated that he wants the bill to pass the Senate, return to the House and be on the president’s desk by Christmas for signing, a tall order with more fierce debate yet to come and a crowded legislative calendar on Capitol Hill in December.
The huge bill will use the reconciliation process for budgetary-related legislation, meaning it can be passed in the Senate with a simple majority, rather than a 60-vote threshold, meaning that Democrats along can see it through the chamber if they support it.
On climate change action, Pelosi said: “If you care about the planet and how we pass it on, this bill is for you.”
The package is ambitious: it aims to dramatically reduce childcare costs, provide universal pre-kindergarten for children, lower the cost of prescription drugs for seniors, expand Medicare to cover hearing aids, extend work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants and provide the largest-ever investment in efforts to combat the climate crisis.
The House version of the legislation also includes four weeks of paid family and medical leave, though the provision faces opposition from Manchin.