• Michael McAuliff

Chaos Surrounds Dems' Build Back Better Push, But It's Not All Bad

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sparked a round of confusion Wednesday by pushing forward with a new version of President Biden's Build Back Better bill -- but without actually having a bill.


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) did that by announcing the Rules Committee will meet Thursday to write a rule to send the new bill -- that doesn't exist -- to the House floor.


"What bill?" asked Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the House Progressive Caucus. "That's what I don't understand... People are like, 'Did you sign off on the deal?' I said, 'What Deal?' I dunno. Is there a deal?" She asked a reporter if he had a deal for her.


In fact, there isn't a deal. But Pelosi's idea seems to be to push the process.


"The deal is, people have to start making decisions and we have to get this done," Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told reporters.


Rep. Jim McGovern

He acknowledged there is no actual bill yet, but said he only needed part of it to get started and write a rule for considering the bill at some point soon.


"What I need is text, some text," McGovern said. "Maybe not the full bill, but we need to be able to start the hearing on what has been agreed upon."


There's a huge amount that has not been agreed upon.


Here's Jayapal with that: "The areas that are not agreed to -- Medicaid, I don't know. Are we doing Medicaid expansion? Are we doing Medicare expansion? What's happening with prescription drugs? What are the actual details on climate? What are we doing for revenue?"


Those questions were not answered as of Wednesday evening. In fact, some issues seemed to be getting less clear.


While senators had proposed new ways to raise the needed revenue through a 15% minimum corporate tax and a billionaire income tax, it was not clear that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was on board, at least with the billionaire tax, which led House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Ritchie Neal to tell reporters it was out.


Neal did not sound too unhappy about that.


"I've pointed out that the billionaire's tax had not been vetted by our committee. In fact, it had not been vetted by any committee. And that it will be very difficult because of its complexity," Neal said. "None of us in the Democratic Caucus in the House have any problem with asking billionaires for more money, that's fine. But this happened all of a sudden."


Manchin had said he thought the billionaire tax was "convoluted," and that maybe there should be a 15% "patriot tax."


Later, Manchin didn't exactly clear things up, but did not agree with the idea that a billionaire tax was out, even it he didn't specifically endorse the tax that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) rolled out earlier in the day.


“No, no, no, no. I —- the only thing I can tell you -- everyone should pay," Manchin said. "If I was blessed to have all this money, and I'm thinking, well, if I get this tax accounting, I can get away from that — that's not right. That's not America. So I called it a patriot [tax]. I said, being a patriot, a patriotic person, I appreciate all the protection I get, and the government I have, and the freedoms I have, and I think that I ought to do my part. That's all I've said."


He also suggested, without being at all definitive, that maybe a 15% billionaire tax would work for him, similar to the minimum corporate tax Wyden, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Angus King (I-Maine) proposed, and which Manchin does support.


Confusion also abounded over family leave. Reporting from Tuesday suggested Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was nearing a deal with Manchin to at least create 12 weeks of parental leave, if not broader family leave. Shortly before 5 p.m., she told reporters that she was still working with Manchin on that, but numerous sources told reporters elsewhere that family leave was out.


Gillibrand responded by releasing a statement saying, "Until the bill is printed, I will continue working to include paid leave in the Build Back Better plan." She also grabbed Manchin on the Senate floor.


"He's researching what other countries do, he's looking into the details, and he said he would remain open-minded," Gillibrand said later. "It's not out."


Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chair of the Health Committee, sounded furious when reporters asked her about paid leave, and also like she wasn't about to concede it was dead.


"We are not going to allow one or two men to tell women, millions of them in this country, that they can't have paid leave," Murray fumed.


Of course, the context here is that President Biden very much hopes to show the world what the United States is about to do to combat climate destruction when he heads to Scotland at the end of the week for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).


Not having climate done is a big deal not just for Biden, but for progressives who will not vote for the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill, which does have significant provisions in it, unless the larger bill is also done.


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said the bipartisan bill could actually increase emissions with some of its provisions, and that there need to be offsets to lower them.


"Unfortunately, those offsets are not in the bipartisan plan," she said. "The offsets are in a separate piece of legislation, which is why it's really important that we pass both of these things together."


She repeated the progressive stance that at the very least they need to see text, that the House must pass both at nearly the same time, and that Biden needs to give a guarantee that senators -- Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) -- won't sabotage it.


"I have a profound amount of respect for President Biden," Ocasio-Cortez said. "He came to my district last month and delivered a very powerful climate promise, and I'm very happy to work with the President to make sure that we keep the promises that were made to my constituents."

Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who ousted venerable Rep. Eliot Engel from Congress last fall in a progressive upset, said he'd be willing to put his faith in Biden.


"I want to see bill text, man," Bowman said, but added, "We're gonna take the president at his word. You know, there is some mistrust when it comes to the Senate. But if the President gives us his word that he's been working with Manchin, he's been working with Sinema, and [they] support him and he got us, then I'll trust the president at his word."