Overcoming House GOP leader’s filibuster, House passes Biden’s Build Back Better bill
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is credited with being the powerhouse leader of the movement to get the BBB measure as far as it has come with passage in the House this morning. | Elaine Thompson/AP

WASHINGTON—After an 8-hour-32-minute filibuster/rant against it by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif. the U.S. House finally passed Democratic President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan early on Nov. 19.

At times garbling his words, and at other times coming unhinged, McCarthy railed against anything and everything in Biden’s 10-year $175-billion-yearly expansion of the frayed U.S. social safety net.

At one point in his talkathon, a record for the House, McCarthy compared passage of the measure to what he termed spending sprees that caused the fall of the Roman Empire. “One-party rule wants to control every element of our lives,” he yelled.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, is seen as the prime mover of BBB in the Senate. He has voted against the military budget, condemning it as bloated and not needed at a time when the people of the country need so many other things. | AP

That didn’t stop the bill from going through on a virtual party-line vote, 220-213. Supporters cheered.

But the measure still must clear hurdles in the evenly split Senate: GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky mandating all Republicans oppose it, and dubious Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia questioning its price tag (Manchin) and tax hikes on corporations and the rich (Sinema).

In addition, original BBB crafter Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., questions why the nation is spending so much on the military-industrial complex–$778 billion in the coming year alone—while giving the social needs short shrift by opposing the BBB Act.

“This bill is one of the most transformative investments in our country’s history. We know that for too long the status quo has benefited the wealthy few and left the majority without access to basic necessities, including a high-quality, affordable child and elder care, health care, and housing,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said, pledging unionists would now lobby senators to follow suit.

“This legislation will knock down the barriers that have prevented so many workers, especially women and people of color, from finding high-quality sustainable jobs. The Build Back Better Act will remake and redefine our economy, and it is the largest-ever investment in clean energy, with domestic content and high labor standards required across the board. This is how we fight climate change the Biden way—with good union jobs,” she added.

McCarthy went on so long, in the session that began Nov. 18, that the House finally quit just after 5 am the next day, returning at 8 am as Democratic leaders called a vote to push the BBB measure through. It passed just before 9:30 am.

Sanders didn’t speak as long as McCarthy, but the senator’s 32-minute address spoke volumes and made far more sense than did McCarthy. “It’s a question of changing our priorities to put people before arms, the senator declared,  after voting against the 750 billion dollar plus military budget to which Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had previously agreed.

Sanders blasted lawmakers, implicitly including Democratic Sens. Manchin and Sinema, for being willing to back a military budget without asking any questions but on BBB demanding detailed information on every fine point of the plan.

“When it comes to the needs of the military-industrial complex: No problem! When it comes to the needs of working people: Too expensive. We need to get our priorities right…The national debt seems to melt away under the influence of the military-industrial complex,” he declared.

“I believe in a strong military, but I do not believe we can throw more money into the Pentagon at a time when working families all across this country are struggling to put food on the table for their kids, and when 140 million Americans can’t afford the basic necessities of life without going into debt,” Sanders told his colleagues.

“Unbelievably, this bill would provide and authorize some $10 billion in taxpayer money to Jeff Bezos, the second-wealthiest person in America, for his space race with Elon Musk, the wealthiest person in America. Frankly, it is not acceptable.

Musk responded to a related tweet by Sanders with an outrageous insult exposing, once again, how tough it is for many multi-billionaires to behave like human beings.

Sanders declared: “If there was ever a moment in American history when we need to fundamentally review our national priorities, this is that moment.

“Whether it’s transforming our economy away from fossil fuels, whether it’s providing paid family and medical leave and whether it’s providing health care to all of our people as a human right as virtually every other major country does, whether it is taking on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, which charges us, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, whether it is addressing our crisis in affordable housing, or providing child care and pre-K to the little kids, now is the time to reassess our priorities.

“Now is the time to fight for real change,” he declared. But Sanders’s colleagues didn’t heed him, much less agree, approving the military’s money bill—plus, he said, a $52 billion “competition act” added on, to subsidize U.S. microchip makers.

As soon as the House approved the BBB plan, however, various groups applauded the vote, took credit for lobbying for it, or both.

“IBEW members are celebrating,” said union President Lonnie Stephenson. “Should this become law, for the first time in the history of our nation, all working people would have access to affordable childcare, early childhood education programs, tax fairness, and critical homecare services for the oldest among us.”

“This legislation would also hold accountable employers who create unsafe and hazardous work environments or refuse to pay their workers what they are owed.

“The Build Back Better Act would also bring us closer to achieving President Biden’s climate goals while creating more good jobs in the renewable energy and transportation sectors” and keeping nuclear power plants open, too, the IBEW leader said. Those jobs “will come with strong labor protections that ensure working people earn living wages and are safe on the job. Finally, strong Buy America provisions in this legislation ensure U.S. taxpayer dollars will be maximized to create good jobs on American soil and boost our domestic manufacturing sector.”

Stephenson’s “should,” however, indicates the battle isn’t over. Now the BBB bill moves to the evenly split Senate, where some of its provisions must run a parliamentary gauntlet and all of it faces hate from the corporate class—because it would raise their taxes—the radical right and their puppets in the Senate GOP, obeying McConnell’s dictates.

“By passing Build Back Better, we are within reach of billions in additional investments for transportation infrastructure and services, as well as key labor-supported provisions that will help provide stronger labor standards and enforcement, further tie federal investments to the creation of good union jobs, lower health care costs, make childcare more affordable, and expand affordable housing,” added Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department.

“To be sure, we still have our work cut out for us. The Build Back Better Act now moves to the Senate, where some Senators, who seek nothing more than to score cheap political points at the expense of working families and the health of our economy, will undoubtedly attempt to load it up with poison-pill amendments,” he warned.

Biden’s BBB bill would “close the Medicaid coverage gap, which would expand health care to more than 800,000 women of reproductive age,” Planned Parenthood said. It also “includes mandatory, permanent extension of Medicaid coverage for 12 months postpartum, improves the affordability of health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act; provides paid family leave for four weeks and provides deportation protection and work permits for immigrants.”

Biden’s BBB bill is “a jobs and human infrastructure plan that lifts the burden on working people, lowers the costs of prescription drugs, child care, and senior care, expands healthcare access, and helps put college in reach for millions of families,” the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) said.

“For too many families in America, life has been an endless cycle of barely making ends meet and gut-wrenching decisions—piecing together jobs, child and elder care, school, housing, prescription costs, healthcare, and transportation while living with the constant fear of a medical emergency or other unplanned expense. And the pandemic has only exacerbated these fears,” union President Randi Weingarten explained.

“We hear this all the time from our members—nurses, bus drivers, public employees, teachers—many of whom are parents and had hoped their jobs would land them in the middle class. The truth is, our economy has very few systems to address these kitchen-table issues to help systemically advantage regular working people, and the Trump administration only made it worse.

“This bill begins to change that, with historic down payments on the very things working families rely on most: Pre-kindergarten, so kids can access learning at a young age, which we know leads to long-lasting economic benefits, child tax credits, and child and elder care, so parents can afford to work or go to college and families aren’t bankrupted when a parent falls ill or needs long-term care,” she added.

Weingarten also lauded its “investments” to make postsecondary education “more affordable and accessible, paid family leave, so millions of workers have the ability to care for a new child or an ill family member without losing a paycheck and affordable healthcare,” tax hikes on the rich and money to combat climate change, plus rental aid for families hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.