Last night, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—one of the few elected Republicans left in the state of California—gave an eight-hour-32-minute speech on the floor of the House, which delayed a vote on Build Back Better, President Biden’s social-policy bill and, naturally, included a lot of completely wild stuff, including a complaint about metal-detector fines and a claim that the bill cost $5 trillion (Democrats heckled him with even more absurdly specious shouts of $6, 7, 8, and 9 trillion) and comments on “Drug trafficking, Immigration, Elon Musk, Defund the police, 2021 local elections, Biden's meeting w/ Xi, Covid origins, Hypersonic missiles, Afghanistan.” One widely mocked highlight: “I can’t even afford to test-drive a Tesla. And Elon is one of my best friends.”
The goal, I guess, was to force Democrats to pass the bill in the dead of night. It was yet another example of Republicans being performative and Democrats being (or trying to be) productive.
This morning, Democrats were productive, passing the bill in the House. It comes on the heels of last week’s infrastructure bill and includes, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Punchbowl News, “a cap on out-of-pocket spending for seniors; a lid on monthly insulin costs; a program allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices; expansion of Medicaid coverage under Obamacare; paid family and medical leave; universal preschool for three and four-year-olds; help with child-care costs; [and] hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending to fight climate change.” Imagine an America with more affordable health care and universal preschool. That’s what this bill will deliver, if it passes the Senate. Only one Democrat, Maine’s Jared Golden, voted against it in the House, and the moderate Blue Dog Democrats supported it—a victory in itself. If recent history is any guide, Senator Joe Manchin will try to yank out the climate stuff and Senator Kyrsten Sinema will do something else completely wacky (while wearing terrible clothing), but at least you won’t be able to complain about legislative gridlock.
All of this legislation is taking place with a razor-thin majority, and in stark contrast to the first two years of the Donald Trump administration, when Republicans controlled Congress and the Senate and were barely able to pass tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations. As much as they wanted to, Republicans were incapable of passing laws to build their dumb racist border wall or to kill the Affordable Care Act. Who could forget John McCain’s famous thumbs-down on the Obamacare vote?
Democrats may be productive, but if they can’t telegraph these wins to voters, will it even matter? If Democrats pass universal pre-K, will they get credit for it, or will Republicans sweep in with their well-crafted talking points and their 24-hour Fox News propaganda and their deceptive Facebook posts and somehow convince people that it was their idea? (Remember when Trump voters wanted to repeal Obamacare because they thought it was a different program than the Affordable Care Act?) Maybe low-income Republicans continue voting against their own interests because they don’t have a clear view of what Democrats are actually doing for them. Or maybe Fox News is just too loud.
Build Back Better expands many of the popular parts of Obamacare, expands Medicare to cover hearing aids, deals with paid leave, and extends the enhanced child tax credit, which promises to help reduce child poverty (not that Republicans care about that last one). As BBB goes to the Senate, Democrats must remember that voters will not miraculously absorb the news of their latest victory. Remember when Trump put his name on stimulus checks? It was tacky, but a little Democratic salesmanship could go a long way in helping the party connect with some of those Republican voters who don’t follow the machinations of legislation in Washington, but who will benefit immensely from the Build Back Better Act.