Vote on Social Policy Bill Delayed as McCarthy Keeps Talking
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, prolonged debate with an apparently record-breaking speech attacking Democrats and veering from G.O.P. talking points to personal anecdotes.,
WASHINGTON — House Democrats delayed plans to pass their $1.85 trillion social policy and climate change bill until Friday morning as the top Republican in the chamber held up the floor with an apparently record-breaking speech railing against President Biden and his agenda.
Party leaders remained confident they had the votes to pass the legislation, after a final cost estimate appeared to assuage centrist holdouts and as a weeklong Thanksgiving recess beckoned. But shortly after midnight Friday, with Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, showing no sign of yielding control of the House floor, Democratic leaders sent lawmakers home, with plans to return at 8 a.m. to finish debate and vote on the sprawling package.
“I don’t know if they think because they left, I’m going to stop,” Mr. McCarthy vowed, as the Republicans seated behind him applauded. “I’m not.” He spoke for more than eight hours, appearing to set the record for the longest continuous House speech in modern history, surpassing a speech by Representative Nancy Pelosi of California in 2018.
Now the Speaker, Ms. Pelosi had professed optimism that the House could pass the package Thursday, a prospect that seemed likely until Mr. McCarthy took the microphone at 8:38 p.m. Democrats have been eager to pass the measure — the broadest intervention in the nation’s social safety net in 50 years and by far the largest effort ever to combat climate change — after months of painful intraparty negotiating, and only one, Representative Jared Golden of Maine, has publicly said he will oppose it.
But Mr. McCarthy successfully prolonged a debate that had been scheduled to last 20 minutes, delivering a dilatory, at times rambling, speech stuffed with Republican talking points against the legislation and a Democratic-controlled Washington, punctuated with riffs about history and taunts against the majority party.
For Mr. McCarthy, it appeared intended to gin up a Republican base eager to take back control of the House in 2022 and to assert himself as a leader shaping his party’s message, cycling through issues including inflation and gas prices, border security, the chaotic withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and what he called an out-of-control Democratic majority.
“I know some of you are mad at me, think I spoke too long,” he said, needling Democrats. “But I’ve had enough. America has had enough.”
While the House has no equivalent to the Senate filibuster, Mr. McCarthy used the so-called magic minute rule, which allows the House speaker, the majority leader and the minority leader to talk for as long as they want. Ms. Pelosi famously used the tactic when she was minority leader in 2018, speaking for just over eight hours about the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
It was reminiscent of former Representative John A. Boehner’s famous speech in opposition to the Affordable Care Act in 2010, where he denounced the bill with a fiery “Hell no!” and rallied his restive minority behind his leadership. But while Mr. Boehner’s speech lasted for a few minutes, Mr. McCarthy blew past what his office said was his previous longest House floor speech of 20 minutes and 17 seconds. At times his voice grew hoarse as he volleyed between outraged condemnation and conversational musing.
He expounded on grievances beyond the sprawling climate, tax and spending provisions in the package, meandered through a range of personal anecdotes and lashed out against changes to House rules that enable proxy voting, as increasingly frustrated and angry Democrats booed and heckled him from the back of the chamber.
“It is a feat of epic proportions to speak for four hours straight and not produce a single memorable phrase, original insight or even a joke,” Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, wrote on Twitter. “McCarthy thinks he is a wit but so far he has proved he is only half right.”
While Mr. McCarthy denied them a triumphant vote Thursday, Democratic aides noted that an early morning vote could guarantee a full day of news media coverage. Ms. Pelosi’s office instead circulated news releases declaring “McCarthy Needs a Reality Check” and wondering “Is Kevin McCarthy OK?”
Ms. Pelosi is expected to deliver her own speech before the House votes on Friday.
“It’s pretty exciting. This is historic; it is transformative,” Ms. Pelosi said on Thursday morning. In a letter to the caucus, she described the legislation as “a spectacular agenda for the future.”
If all but three Democrats remain united, Republicans are powerless to prevent the House from passing the plan, which they have long refused to support because of its scope and scale. Because the bill is being considered under special rules known as reconciliation that shield it from a filibuster in the Senate, Democrats have bypassed Republican input and relied instead on their razor-thin majorities in both chambers to craft the package.
The Congressional Budget Office published an official cost estimate on Thursday afternoon that found the package would increase the federal budget deficit by $160 billion over 10 years. The package would largely be paid for with tax increases on high earners and corporations, estimated to bring in nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
A group of moderate and conservative holdouts repeatedly delayed a vote on the package, citing concerns about its cost and insisting on an official estimate before they would commit to supporting it. But the release on Thursday of section-by-section assessments from the Congressional Budget Office, the official fiscal scorekeeper, appeared to sway most.
Democrats, who have stuffed the bill with long-desired priorities and policy changes, took turns highlighting the bill’s array of environmental provisions, an expansion of health care and support for education and child care. Ms. Pelosi talked up the areas of agreement that Democrats had reached in both the House and Senate: universal prekindergarten, generous assistance with child care costs, prescription drug price controls and home health care for older Americans.
If the bill clears the House, it faces a difficult road in the Senate, where Republicans will have a clear shot to offer politically difficult amendments, any one of which could unravel the delicate Democratic coalition behind it. Two Democratic centrists, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have not committed to supporting it, and a single defection would bring the measure down in the evenly divided chamber.
Some significant provisions remain in play, including a measure to grant work permits and legal protection to many undocumented immigrants; funding for four weeks of paid family and medical leave; and a generous increase in the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes paid, from $10,000 a year to $80,000.
Liberals like Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is the chairman of the Budget Committee have raised strong objections to that tax measure, which would amount to a major tax cut for wealthy homeowners who itemize their deductions. Mr. Sanders and other senators are discussing limiting who can benefit from the increased deduction based on income.
Biden’s Social Policy Bill at a Glance
Having capped the deduction in their 2017 tax law, Republicans have also singled out the provision in their attacks on the legislation, including in Mr. McCarthy’s speech. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, scoffed, “I’m almost impressed our colleagues have found a way to be this out of touch.”
But Democrats from high-tax states like New Jersey and New York have demanded the provision as the price for their vote.
Ms. Pelosi, who pronounced herself a supporter of the tax provision, defended it on Thursday, saying that it was “not about tax cuts for wealthy people” but ensuring that state and local governments have the tax revenue they need to provide education, fire and rescue services.
Immigration may prove to be an even more dangerous flash point, given the politics around the issue since the rise of President Donald Trump. Democrats have had to scale back their ambitions from a pathway to citizenship to temporary protection from deportation for millions of migrants who are long term citizens of the United States, as well as a provision to recapture green cards that went unused in past years.
The provision may ultimately fall out altogether because of reconciliation rules, although the parliamentarian has yet to weigh in on the latest plan.
Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, conceded on Thursday that a pathway to citizenship was most likely lost for now, and she implored her colleagues to shut out the Republican attacks on what is left.
“We have to get that over the goal line, we have to,” she said, promising, “I will take it and run with it, and not stop until we get everything we need for these precious souls.”
Ms. Pelosi repeatedly said she had no fear that the bill would be brought down in the Senate or altered substantially.
“The Senate will act its will on it, but whatever it is, it will still be transformative and historic,” she said.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader who will have to take up the mantle if the measure clears the House, promised on Thursday to finish the task.
“Creating jobs, lowering costs, fighting inflation, keeping more money in people’s pockets — these are things Americans want and what Americans need and it’s what Build Back Better does,” he said on the Senate floor. “We are going to keep working on this important legislation until we get it done.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.