On Nov. 19, with a razor-thin majority of 220 to 213, the United States House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi succinctly remarked, “This bill is monumental. It’s historic. It’s transformative. It’s bigger than anything we have ever done.”
She is wholly justified in saying so. The $1.85 trillion reconciliation package marks the most extensive effort to combat climate change in American history and is arguably the most comprehensive investment in the country’s middle class, children, healthcare and education in decades.
The Build Back Better Act attempts to circumvent the Republican Senate Minority’s usage of the filibuster, which provides them with the power to block any bill unless overridden with a 60 vote supermajority. Thus Republicans have the de facto authority to veto most legislation Congressional Democrats attempt to propose. However, the budget reconciliation process established by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 allows a majority in the Senate to expedite budgetary legislation once a year without facing the threat of a filibuster.
There is the caveat that reconciliation bills are limited by — the “Byrd Rule.” This prohibits extraneous provisions whose principal purpose is not a change in spending or tax revenues or would increase the deficit beyond 10 fiscal years. The usage of the reconciliation process is not without precedent and has been used 22 times prior, most recently with Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and before that, Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
If passed by the Senate as stands, the Build Back Better Act would have an immense impact on how the US will respond to climate change going forward. While the title, “reconciliation bill,” as it is commonly referred to, is hardly inspiring, it provides $555 billion. This is the largest sum of money ever allocated in American history towards mitigating and preventing climate change.
Through tax credits and rebates offered to citizens and corporations, the bill will incentivize renewable and clean energy. This will work to decrease consumer energy costs, spur innovation in green technologies and reduce the United States’ reliance on finite fossil fuels. Billions more will go towards air pollution reduction, forest restoration, clean water, green energy research and development, National Parks and coastal communities conservation and energy-efficient infrastructure. These conservation efforts, as well as renewed domestic manufacturing in energy technology, will create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs for the American people.
Additionally, with over a hundred billion dollars going towards pre-school, the bill ensures that all children are provided with adequate educational development before entering school. The bill will also allow millions of American parents to reenter the workforce amid an unprecedented labor shortage. Nearly half a trillion dollars of child care subsidies and tax credits will lower the burden working-class families face to raise the next generation of Americans.
In regard to higher education, the Build Back Better Act will expand Pell Grants to subsidize college tuition, mandate higher wages for teachers and provide free school meals to almost 9 million children.
The act also calls for further expansions of labor and healthcare protections. The bill allocates another two hundred billion dollars towards extending four weeks of family leave to all American workers, as well as medical leave in the event of illness, joining the 174 other nations around the world in doing so. The bill also expands Medicaid for senior citizens and provides healthcare coverage for 4 million Americans that were previously uninsured while reducing premiums for a further 9 million. Pharmaceutical companies that artificially raise prices beyond inflation will be taxed to lower the costs of prescription drugs.
The bill is nothing short of a monumental step forward for the US and the progressive agenda. In conjunction with Biden’s recently passed Infrastructure Bill, the country can address the inevitable ramifications of climate change, while also proactively mitigating the further emission of harmful pollutants and greenhouse gasses. This bill additionally uplifts working and middle-class Americans by creating an expanded social safety net and hundreds of thousands of well-paying and accessible jobs.
And despite the acrimonious and mendacious protests of the debt hawks in Congress and the media who seem to conveniently forget their concerns when a Republican administration occupies the Oval Office, the specious claims that the bill represents unchecked government spending does not reflect the reality that Democrats have largely covered the cost of the bill through targeted tax hikes on the wealthiest 1% of Americans. From the latest analysis of the Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan organization with the statutory authority to determine the costs of federal legislation, the bill will add a net of 16 billion dollars to the federal deficit for each of the next ten fiscal years.
Compare that to the nearly 1.9 trillion dollars added to the federal deficit by Trump’s 2017 tax cuts — tax cuts which did nothing but disproportionately benefit massive corporations and the wealthiest of America’s elite.
In stark contrast to his Republican counterparts in past administrations, who have repeatedly increased the deficit through unrestrained and irresponsible legislation, Biden’s plan is largely paid for. The costs of implementing the vital reform enacted by the bill will be reimbursed, as the Build Back Better Act also increases taxes on corporations, foreign profits, stock buybacks, and millionaires and billionaires. This bill also allocates money for the IRS to audit tax evaders more aggressively.
The hypocrisy of Republicans is self-evident as they derisively condemn a $160 billion increase in the deficit, which would provide nearly $2 trillion for the climate, healthcare, housing, education and infrastructure. Meanwhile, they are exuberant as they add almost 2 trillion dollars to the national debt in order to pass tax cuts for the rich.
Furthermore, the costs of the Build Back Better Act will be offset not only by taxes, but also through the positive externalities induced by the bill. For example, combating pollution will mitigate the costs of climate change-induced disaster recovery and relief as well as the associated healthcare costs of treating those affected by pollutants and climate disasters, thereby diminishing government expenditure in the future. Moreover, the massive investments in education for children and healthcare will increase worker productivity and consumer spending, improving the economy and raising more government revenues in the long run.
Given that the GOP’s perspective towards climate change can be charitably described as insouciance though perhaps more accurately be seen as an utter rejection of reality, it is highly probable that Republicans will not lend a single vote towards the act. It is thus entirely upon Democrats and President Biden to ensure the act is signed into law.
The urgent need for the Build Back Better Act is irrefutable. Republicans must acknowledge the reality that the act is an economically viable way to provide desperately needed relief to the American people and prepare the nation for the future.
Moreover, as the midterm elections approach, Democrats face declining poll numbers and a historical disadvantage as the incumbent party. Thus it is vital that Senators Manchin and Sinema, along with their colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus, enact a bill that is faithful to the version passed by the House to publicly demonstrate that Congressional Democrats are capable of enacting pragmatic legislation and creating tangible change for the American people.
Pranav Krishnan is a freshman studying economics. Do you agree that the Senate should pass the Build Back Better Act? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org