Kevin McCarthy gives longest House floor speech in history delaying Build Back Better vote

House Democrats pushed back a vote on President Joe Biden’s plan to dramatically expand the social safety net after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stalled floor action with a record-breaking marathon speech that stretched into the early hours of Friday morning.

McCarthy, a Republican from California, started his speech at 8:38 p.m. ET, and stopped speaking early Friday morning after eight hours and 32 minutes, making his remarks the longest House floor speech in history.

McCarthy was able to hold the floor indefinitely under the procedures of the House, which say the majority leader and the minority leader get what’s called a “Magic Minute” at the end of floor debate, meaning they can speak for as long as they want. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used a similar tactic as minority leader in 2018, speaking for more than eight hours on the House floor in a speech about young undocumented immigrants, the previous record for a floor speech.

The sweeping $1.9 trillion economic legislation was eventually passed later Friday morning and stands as a key pillar of Biden’s domestic agenda.

Former President Donald Trump issued a statement Friday afternoon praising McCarthy for his marathon speech.

“Great job by Kevin McCarthy last night, setting a record by going over 8 hours of speaking on the House Floor,” Trump said, adding in a statement that Democrats had committed “highest level of evil.”

The statement contrasts with some recent messaging from Trump’s allies. On Thursday, Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows criticized McCarthy, and suggested that Trump rather than McCarthy should be chosen as speaker of the House if Republicans win the majority in 2022.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, explained why Democrats delayed the vote into later Friday morning by saying McCarthy wanted to force passage of the bill “in the dead of night,” a politically charged description that has been used to criticize legislation in the past.

“We are going to do it in the day,” Hoyer said.

Now that the legislation has passed the House, it will face key hurdles in the Senate, with a fight looming over a controversial tax provision and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia still not on board.

As a result, Democrats are working hard to keep their fragile coalition of moderates and progressives united behind the package. The legislation has already been the subject of intense disputes between warring party factions in the House, and Democrats have no margin for error in the Senate.

The legislation will likely have to be altered, potentially significantly, to get every member of the Senate Democratic caucus to vote for it as key members raise major concerns with the contents of the bill.

What’s in the legislation

The Build Back Better Act represents a central part of Biden’s policy agenda and an attempt by congressional Democrats to go it alone without GOP support to enact a major expansion of the social safety net.

The House and Senate recently passed, and Biden then signed into law, a separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which marked a major legislative achievement for both parties.

The Build Back Better Act is an effort by Democrats to build on that investment in traditional infrastructure by making extensive investments to ramp up social programs and address the climate crisis.

Among its many provisions, the legislation would create a universal pre-K program, extend the enhanced child tax credit and expand access to health care, affordable housing and home care for seniors.

The Congressional Budget Office released its final scoring for the bill early Thursday evening, estimating that the package “would result in a net increase in the deficit totaling $367 billion over the 2022-2031 period, not counting any additional revenue that may be generated by additional funding for tax enforcement,” according to a summary.

The White House worked to make the case that the bill will be fully paid for, despite the CBO analysis showing a shortfall.

Senior White House officials Brian Deese and Louisa Terrell met with moderate House Democrats after the numbers were released, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The CBO’s analysis score does not include revenue from tighter IRS enforcement. The CBO estimated earlier that would raise $207 billion.

The White House argues that increased IRS enforcement would actually raise more than what the CBO projects, meaning the bill would be fully paid for in their estimate.

Obstacles ahead in the Senate

In a warning sign for the party, Manchin, the most important swing vote who has expressed major concerns over a variety of elements of the bill, told CNN on Thursday that he has not decided whether to support voting to proceed to the Build Back Better bill, the critical first vote to take up the measure in the Senate. Any one Democratic defection would stall the effort.

“No,” Manchin said when asked if he had made a decision to vote to proceed. “I’m still looking at everything.” The comments reflect that Manchin is still not on board with the legislation and signal the tough road ahead for Democrats.

The West Virginia Democrat said that he wants to see the final numbers from the Congressional Budget Office and changes made to the bill. “I just haven’t seen the final, the final bill. So when the final bill comes out, CBO score comes out, then we’ll go from there,” he said.

Manchin also reiterated his concerns about inflation. “Everyone’s concerned, they should be concerned about inflation, because it’s real. Inflation is real,” he said. “So we got to make sure we get through this the best we can, and put no more burden on them.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Friday.

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