Michigan reps stick to party as House passes $1.7T social spending plan
Washington — House Democrats cheeredin jubilation as they pushed through their sweeping $1.7 trillion climate and social spending package Friday, with Michigan's delegation voting along party lines.
The Build Back Better Act — a signature piece of President Joe Biden's agenda — now goes to the U.S. Senate where it's expected to be changed.
One provision that could potentially be altered or dropped in the upper chamber was written by Michigan lawmakers. It would give the three Detroit automakers an edge over competitors through a $12,500 consumer rebate for electric vehicles, which includes $4,500 for cars built by union labor.
The measure is opposed by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democratic vote needed to get the package through the evenly divided Senate. Manchin has called the provision "not American" and "wrong."
Canada has also come out swinging against the language, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Washington this week saying the proposal would have "a real negative impact" on the U.S.-Canada trade relationship.
The White House said Friday it's sticking with it.
"We're happy to continue having a conversation," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. "However, this is something the president is deeply committed to because he believes good-paying union jobs that help us ... support clean energy industries is in our economic and national security and national interests."
The final House vote Friday was 220-213, with one Democratic defection: Maine Rep. Jared Golden.
Michigan's seven Democrats in the House all backed the measure, including U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holly who had been undecided Thursday as she waited to see how the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office would score the package before lending her support.
"I laid out my criteria from the start: It needed to be transformative, targeted and paid for without taxing the middle class," Slotkin said in a Friday statement. "It's not perfect — but it will make daily life better and more affordable for Michigan families."
Michigan's seven Republicans in Congress voted no.
"The Democrats are trying to turn our country into a cradle-to-grave welfare state on the backs of our children and grandchildren," said Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township. "Instead of spending money on unnecessary social welfare programs, America needs to get its spending under control.”
What the bill does
Democrats hailed the expansive legislation as historic and transformational for Michigan families and seniors, touting provisions for universal preschool, paid family leave, expanded home and child care assistance, and lower costs for some prescription drugs.
There's also $150 billion for housing, including expanded rental assistance and home repair aid. Another element would expand health insurance coverage through Medicaid to cover 95,000 uninsured people in Michigan, according to the White House.
The bill includes funding for lead service line replacement with $9 billion in funding that would funnel an estimated $300 million for Michigan, where Benton Harbor, Hamtramck and other communities are struggling with high lead levels in their drinking water.
"With the Build Back Better Budget, we help lower costs for the working families that I represent," said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, during Thursday's floor debate.
"This Build Back Better budget isn't free. It's fully paid for. It's paid for by making corporations and the wealthiest Americans finally step up and begin to pay their fair share. Today, Democrats are delivering on this important legislation."
Republicans continued to excoriate the legislation, saying it contained excessive and "reckless" spending, budget gimmicks and that it would exacerbate inflation already on the rise.
"The Democrats’ math doesn’t add up. Their massive tax and spending spree is NOT fully paid for," Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, tweeted. "This budget-busting boondoggle will only worsen inflation and saddle our country with greater debt."
Friday's House vote came about 12 hours later than anticipated after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California delivered a marathon eight-hour speech ending shortly after 5 a.m.
McCarthy's sometimes rambling overnight speech railed against the Democrats' agenda and Biden's 10 months in office: "Never in American history has so much been spent at one time."
The CBO on Thursday said the package would add $367 billion to the federal deficit over a decade. The legislation is paid for with tax increases on high-income individuals and corporations, as well as savings in spending by the government on prescription drugs.
Several Republicans singled out the second-most expensive program in the package that would benefit the wealthy by letting households boost their deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) from $10,000 to $80,000 through 2026.
Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township, said he was flabbergasted by the "brazen" increase in the SALT deduction.
"It’s astounding that Speaker Pelosi wants to hand hard-earned taxpayer dollars to the richest Americans by raising the SALT deduction cap," Meijer said.
"While we have critical structural challenges as a nation, it is likewise bewildering that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle chose to pursue a bill that would exacerbate our existing supply-chain issues while prioritizing their favorite special interests, such as trial lawyers and big media companies."
Slotkin had been supportive of several provisions within the package such as expanded child care subsidies and efforts to lower prescription drug prices. But she was among a group of Democrats who remained undecided in recent months — even after Biden visited her district and met with her privately last month seeking her vote.
"I don't want this to add significantly to the national debt. I have a very fiscally responsible district, and I'm a fiscally responsible person," she said in an interview ahead of Friday's vote.
"I don't mind making transformative investments in things that I believe we'll legitimately change people's lives. Universal pre-K across the country — that in itself is amazing. But we got to explain how we're paying for it."
Slotkin said she'd prefer some things be removed from the package that the Senate will proceed to "slim down."
She gave the example of immigration, which was "not handled in a comprehensive manner, and does not get at the root causes of our broken immigration system, nor the enduring problems at the Southern border."
Democrats are aiming to pass the package using a procedure called budget reconciliation, whose rules let them pass the bill with a simple majority in the Senate instead of the 60 votes required to advance most bills.
The legislation is expected to be revised in the Senate on items such as family leave and return to the House to reconcile the differences. Much will hinge on the key votes of Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, both Democrats.
House leaders Friday insisted that any changes would be minor because they've worked closely in recent weeks with Manchin, Sinema and the chairs of Senate committees.
They anticipated no overhauls of popular provisions such as prescription drug pricing, child care, universal preschool, skilled workforce training, methane fees or boosting access to school meals.
"I believe this is pretty much it," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee. "There may be some additional changes but in terms of paying for it and in terms of the actual substantive authorizing language, I think we're pretty solid at this point."
How it might impact Michigan
White House estimates on the potential impact of the Build Back Better plan for Michigan families include child care access for more than 602,000 children ages 0 to 5 for families earning less than 250% of the state median income (about $224,200 for a family of four).
The bill text would cap child care costs at 7% of household earnings for most families, with the rest covered by government subsidies. It would also extend an enhanced child tax credit of $3,000 for one year.
The provision to offer universal preschool would expand publicly funded preschool to 222,398 additional 3- and 4-year-olds in Michigan a year, which advocates say would have lifelong benefits for kids and help parents who want to return to work.
The White House has also estimated that an expansion of the free school meal program would mean access for an additional 352,000 students in Michigan during the school year, as well as 832,300 eligible students with $65 a month to purchase food in the summer months.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said she secured $3 billion in the package toward a new fund for distressed communities in need of homeowner rehabilitation aid, weatherization improvements, plus housing accessibility for seniors and people with disabilities.
Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, stressed measures that would impose "meaningful" fines on employers for unfair labor practices or violations of workforce safety.
“I’m grateful to my fellow progressive members of Congress who stuck together and held the line with unity and strength to fight for a human infrastructure package that does justice to the American people and the planet," Levin said in a statement. "I urge my colleagues in the Senate to advance this transformative bill quickly, so President Biden can sign it into law.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, got in her measure to make community mental health and addiction treatment programs piloted in Michigan available in all states.
Other Michigan Democrats also have lobbied for their priorities, including Rep. Debbie Dingell's legislation to expand home and community-based care for Medicaid that's included at a level of $150 billion.
"This is a good beginning to help caregivers and help people stay in their own homes," said Dingell, noting there's nearly a million people on waiting lists for home-based community care.
"We're the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't a have long-term care program. And we're making it possible for workers to get back into the workplace."
Clean vehicle, energy plans
Dingell has also touted $20 billion for a national green bank known as the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to spur the financing of renewable energy and emissions reduction projects, and $3 billion for her Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Future Act to revamp an Energy Department program for retooling auto factories.
The legislation includes several provisions to advance the adoption of electric vehicles, including the EV tax credits crafted by Kildee and Stabenow that would give consumers up to $12,500 off a new electric vehicle, depending on whether it is produced domestically, by union labor and with significant battery range.
Trudeau said late Thursday he raised concerns about the American-made EV tax credits with Biden directly.
"I highlighted over the course of these past two days in many many different conversations, Canada's real concerns about the impact it would have, not just on the industry in Canada but on the integrated industry and workers on both sides of the border," Trudeau said at a news conference concluding his D.C. visit.
The Canadian leader also said he was committed to "find solutions."
"It is obvious that working together to be more competitive in North America is extremely important, particularly the time when we're seeing some of the challenges faced by supply chains that stretch out across the globe," Trudeau said.
"There is a desire coming out of this pandemic to look at more resilience, more trusted partners, more ability to be self-sufficient, and that can happen — not just one within one given country but within one region."
The White House said it would continue its conversation with Trudeau on the EV issue.
Another provision from Stabenow would give manufacturers a 30% tax credit for building or retooling factories to produce clean energy products and set aside $4 billion over a decade for communities that have “experienced major job losses” in the auto industry since 1994.
Kildee pushed to include $1.2 billion in assistance for cities that have been hurt by trade, which his office says would benefit at least Bay City, Saginaw, Dearborn, Flint and Detroit.
Legislation from Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, would put nearly $6 billion toward electrifying the U.S. Postal Service fleet.
Peters also worked to include funding for programs supporting small and mid-sized manufacturers and technology R&D and to allocate $5 billion to increase supply chain resiliency.