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House Passes Build Back Better Act, All Eyes on Senate

Unites States CapitolThis blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE. 

Democrats in Congress are taking a victory lap as they leave town for a weeklong Thanksgiving recess next week. With House passage of the Build Back Better Act, the Biden agenda is one step closer to enactment. But the Senate will have the final say. 

House Passes Build Back Better Bill – At Last 

After weeks of fraught negotiations, and multiple postponed votes, the House finally passed the Build Back Better Act (the reconciliation bill) this morning.  One Democrat (Rep. Jared Golden of Maine) sided with all Republicans opposing the bill. This left the Democrats with the slim margin they needed to cross the finish line.

House Democrats were waiting for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to release its full cost estimate on the reconciliation bill before scheduling the vote. With the CBO release on Thursday, they were poised to vote right away; however, those plans were derailed by an eight hour and 32 minute  floor speech  from the chamber’s top Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Democrats did not expect the lengthy floor speech from McCarthy—touching on everything from his desire to own a Tesla, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and the Los Angeles police department. “Kevin McCarthy has now shown more anger about making child care affordable than he has about the insurrection on January 6th,” Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) tweeted. Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi’s office emailed a press release with the subject line, “Is Kevin McCarthy OK?”

In a floor speech just before the vote, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) said: “With the passage of the Build Back Better Act, we, this Democratic Congress, are taking our place in the long and honorable heritage of our democracy with legislation that will be the pillar of health and financial security in America. It will be historic in forging landmark progress for our nation.”  House Majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the bill was “one of the most consequential bills that any member will ever vote on.” 

The CBO reports the package will cost $1.7 trillion over a decade and add $367 billion to the deficit. But that number does not include possible revenue brought in by increased IRS enforcement, meaning the impact on the federal budget gap would be less. When accounting for the possible extra tax revenue, projections suggest the package would add $160 billion over 10 years to the federal deficit rather than $367 billion. The White House, however, insists that the IRS enforcement will yield even more revenue, ensuring the bill is actually fully paid for.

The $1.7 billion bill includes massive investments in education, from childcare, to preschool, to college affordability, to the educator pipeline. The Senate is expected to take up the bill in the coming weeks and changes are all but assured as they seek to hold all Democrats together for the 50 votes they must have to pass the bill.  Resistance from moderate Senate Democrats and procedural hurdles (including the parliamentarian’s determination about appropriateness of provisions in a reconciliation bill) represent significant roadblocks which could drag out Senate consideration for some time. With only three legislative weeks left in the year and a crowded agenda, the pressure is on. 

Advocacy Action Alert 

This week, 33 Members of Congress reintroduced the IDEA Full Funding Act of 2021. This bill would require yearly increases to funding for programs that support students with disabilities, their families, and their educators.  In 1975, Congress promised to fund 40% of the additional cost of special education services when it passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, that promise has never been met. Due to this, state and local governments have shouldered the additional costs of special education services. It’s time to have Congress fulfill the pledge to support students with disabilities. Thanks to our colleagues at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, you can use this form to tell your Members of Congress to support the IDEA Full Funding Act and ensure that schools have sufficient funding for special education.

 New Resources

Washington Update will be on pause for Thanksgiving week. We will return December 3.  Wishing you all a joyful Thanksgiving filled with gratitude, family and friends, and great food!

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. Follow us on Twitter @janewestdc and @brennan_kait.


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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant

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