Moments after the US House narrowly passed a huge social and climate spending bill that has been in the works for six months, there was a celebratory mood in Washington: Some Democrats did little happy dances and a chant of “Build Back Better” broke out.
After three months of the bill being in something of a legislative logjam, one can understand the moment of release for some members. But as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted shortly after all the happy dancing: this thing is far from over.
As the $1.7 trillion plan heads to the Senate, it is sure to be changed, possibly significantly. The paid family leave provision? Senator Joe Manchin says it has to go if he is going to vote for the overall bill. Senator Kyrsten Sinema noted, “that’s not the agreement the president put out in his framework several weeks ago.” So count her in on wanting to see some changes.
But before anyone suggests that this pair of moderate Democrats could alone sink or change this bill, look to the party’s progressive wing to see that is just not the case. Senator Bernie Sanders, in particular, thinks that some tax provisions in the House bill help the rich too much. He wants to see changes also.
That is not all. Since this is technically a budget bill, the Senate parliamentarian must rule on every provision to make sure that it keeps with the spirit of changes to the federal budget. That is where provisions tacked on last minute, like one on immigration, could also be stripped out.
Here is the important part: when the bill is inevitably changed, and if it passes the Senate, then it needs to go right back to the House where House lawmakers must approve or reject the changed version. Again, this presumes that Sanders, Manchin, Sinema, and the rest of the Democratic caucus can agree on a compromise, or the whole thing blows up.
And if it does go back to the House, who knows what will happen. Progressives could demand more changes. Centrists from certain states may want that tax provision Sanders opposes back in the bill. The Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate are so small, and notably, no Republican voted for the bill in the House, a sign of what is to come in the Senate.
To be sure, this bill is a big deal. Democrats are hailing it as the biggest social spending bill since the New Deal. Republicans see this as the bill they want to run against in the midterms. Every Democrat in the Senate as the ability to shape the legislation or single-handedly kill it. For President Biden, it could be the last big thing he does as president.
For that reason, this is an especially big moment for Biden. That said, after months of negotiations there does seem to be something of a framework in place on this bill. It is not like they are starting from scratch.
At the same time everything moves slow in the Senate. Republicans, many of whom are positioning themselves to run for president, will likely try to take the spotlight with delay tactics. There is also the small problem that the federal government could both shut down and separately default on its loans in a matter of weeks. That is unless the House and Senate are able to pass a government funding and debt ceiling agreement along with the “Build Back Better” legislation.
Bottom line: Democrats do have some reason to celebrate. The House passing what they did on Friday is a necessary step ― one of many more to go.